Is flying safe in pregnancy?

How far into my pregnancy can I safely fly, and should I be worried about blood clots, DVT, and going into labour?

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In a nutshell

Yes, before 37 weeks into your pregnancy. After this point, it’s not recommended you fly and you’re unlikely to find an airline that will take you. 

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The expert view

Most airlines are quite happy for you to fly up to 37 weeks pregnant, although many require a letter from your GP or midwife after 28 weeks confirming you are fit to fly.

If you’re having twins and are having an uncomplicated pregnancy, it’s safe for you to fly before 32 weeks, but not beyond this point. 

Airline policies do vary, so check before you book your flight. 

Both the NHS and the Civil Aviation Authority agree that the main risk after 36 weeks are delivering early during the flight, or having to land in a place that might not have high-quality medical services.

But there are other considerations, even if you are completely healthy and not in the very late stages.

I’ve heard you’re more likely to have blood clots and Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)>

The most common type of clot in pregnancy is deep vein thrombosis (DVT) – and research shows it’s about four times as likely when you’re pregnant.

DVT is where a blood clot develops, often in the deep veins of the legs but occasionally in the pelvis.

It can be fatal if the clot dislodges and travels to the lungs (pulmonary embolism).

Unfortunately, sitting still for long periods of time, including long-distance travel of more than four hours, can increase the risk – not the best news if you’ve just booked a flight to Sydney.

But don’t panic, as the risks are still very low – research shows around 0.5 to 2 pregnant women per 1,000 develop thrombosis, and it accounts for around 1 death in 100,000 pregnancies. 

What can I do to reduce the risk of DVT?

  • Get moving – taking regular walks around the plane is advised, as well as a brisk walk before boarding the flight
  • Leg exercises – we’re not talking full lunges here, a few calf stretches and foot circles will do the trick
  • Compression socks – these work by keeping the blood flowing from the surface of the leg to the core and research shows these could cut the risk of DVT by up to 90%
  • Stay hydrated – ok, you’re unlikely to be indulging in the free G&Ts anyway, but experts agree that water comes top

Is it safe to fly in your first trimester?

Some women prefer not to travel in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy because of the tiredness and nausea in this early stage. The risk of miscarriage is also higher in this stage of pregnancy, although that is not related to flying.

However, if you feel well and have discussed it with your GP, there’s no reason why you can’t travel during this time.

How to choose the best seat

We’d all love to turn left when getting on the plane but, sadly, most of us are resigned to economy.

If you can manage to wangle a bulkhead seat there will be more space to stretch out – same goes in the emergency exit row, but the CAA rules do not allow these to be allocated to those who “have difficulty moving quickly”, so airlines may decide not to let you sit there. http://www.caa.co.uk/default.aspx?catid=2207&pageid=12706

You may also want to think about booking a seat close to the toilet – keeping well hydrated may mean a few extra trips to the loo.

Seat belt safety – what you need to know

Your belt should be buckled under your bump. It should be securely fastened, and sitting snugly across your hipbones. Never buckle the belt over your bump as a sudden jolt could cause injuries. If you need a lap-belt extension, let a flight attendant know. 

When should you not fly?

There are still some circumstances that mean it’s better to stay grounded during pregnancy. These include:

  • if you recently had significant vaginal bleeding
  • if you have severe anaemia
  • sickle cell disease

If you are planning to fly while pregnant, do discuss any health issues you might have with your midwife or doctor before flying.

“To help decide whether or not to fly, you should think about how many weeks pregnant you’ll be, what facilities are available at your destination and whether it will increase your risk of medical problems,” says Philippa Marsden, chairwoman of the RCOG’s patient information committee. “It is important to discuss any health issues or pregnancy complications with your midwife or doctor before you fly.”

What food and drink should you have?

Pre-cooked airline meals are kept refrigerated until being heated in the on-board convection ovens, so don’t worry unduly about bugs.

But, you may prefer to order a special meal if you are at all worried about what you will be served.

Most airlines now offer a wide choice of meals, including vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, halal and kosher – just make sure you book in advance. Or why not pack your own healthy snacks if it’s a shorter flight?

Buying a large bottle of water after you have cleared security is also a good idea, then you know you have a ready supply rather than relying on the tiny cups on board. 

Mums on our forum say 

“I went to the Caribbean when 5 months pregnant. It was a long haul flight so I booked an aisle seat and made sure I went on a walk up and down the plane every hour. I made sure the flight attendants knew I was pregnant and they brought me water on a regular basis to keep hydrated. I also bought flight socks, which were invaluable.” Blondefriend

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“I flew to Australia and back between 6 and 10 weeks…it was horrendous, only because of terrible morning sickness, tiredness etc. I will never do that again if I can avoid it. Tell the stewards when on board and maybe even when checking in (could get you an upgrade to be more comfortable) and drink plenty of water. Also ensure you take snacks. I wasn’t fed between Bangkok and Heathrow for 10 hours…that’s a long time without food when pregnant.” MrsA111

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