Is It Risky to Fly While Pregnant?

Who Should Avoid the Friendly Skies?

Although flying is generally considered safe while pregnant, it may not be the best place for a woman who has a high-risk pregnancy. If a problem comes up, being miles in the air and far from a hospital is probably not the best idea if you can avoid it.
There are also other situations where it is generally not recommended for pregnant women to fly. This would include women who have:
  • Sickle cell disease
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Severe anemia
  • Problematic diabetes
  • Placental abnormalities
  • A high risk for premature labor
  • Other notable complications.
Also, the ACOG recommends women avoid flying after they reach their 36th week of pregnancy. This is because there is a high risk that a woman may go into labor any day after this point in her pregnancy. If there is no way around it and you have to fly after this point, make sure to bring copies of your medical records if possible. If something happens, you will want to be as prepared as possible. Also, ask your healthcare provider for referrals to other healthcare providers in the city you are flying to.
It's also important to check with the airline you will be flying with. They may have certain restrictions about when women can fly during their pregnancy. In some cases, you may need to have a note from your healthcare provider that gives you approval to fly.

Common Concerns

If you already had travel plans in place before you found out you were pregnant, it doesn't necessarily mean that you have to cancel them. Taking certain precautions can help ensure a safe travel experience for you and the little one you're carrying. You may be concerned with whether it is safe to pass through the metal detector at the airport. These devices are not x-ray machines, so they are safe for you and your baby.
Full-body scanners do use radiation, but at a level that is extremely low. Nevertheless, if you are uncomfortable with the potential (though likely minuscule) risks, you can ask for an alternative screening (a "pat-down" screening).
Some women may even wonder if problems can occur as a result of flying at high altitudes. Is there a risk of dangerous exposure to electromagnetic radiation from the sun when you are at high altitudes? No -- the level of radiation you are exposed to while flying at high altitudes isn't significantly greater than the normal radiation you are exposed to every day.
Other concerns may come up for women who are experiencing morning sickness throughout their pregnancy. Flying can make these feelings worse. If you have to travel while you are pregnant, you may find it helpful to have an aisle or bulkhead seat so you can get to the bathroom quickly if you need to.
If you are going to be flying overseas, you may also have some additional considerations to take into account. Talk to your healthcare provider about immunizations you may need to have, as you may be exposed to a disease or other health problem that may be common for that area.
Diarrhea is also a common problem that even healthy and nonpregnant people may have when traveling outside of the United States. This symptom occurs because your body may not be used to the germs and other organisms that may be contained in the food and water of other countries. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women. To help avoid this problem, here are some helpful tips:
  • Drink bottled water
  • Drink tap water only if it has been boiled for one minute (three minutes in altitudes higher than 6,000 feet)
  • Do not use ice cubes made from unboiled water
  • Do not drink out of glasses that are washed in unboiled water
  • Make sure milk is pasteurized
  • Drink canned juices as an alternative if no bottled water is available
  • Avoid fresh fruits and vegetables unless they have been cooked or can be peeled (such as bananas or oranges)
  • Do not eat meat or fish unless it has been cooked thoroughly.
If you are going to be traveling internationally, talk to your healthcare provider beforehand about any potential safety concerns that may apply to you and your baby.
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