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Will Travelling Affect Pregnancy? How To Stay Safe When Travelling During Pregnancy

Will Travelling Affect Pregnancy? How To Stay Safe When Travelling During Pregnancy

Will travelling affect pregnancy? Is it safe to fly in pregnancy? Are there places I should be wary of?

When it comes to pregnancy and travel there are a lot of fears flying around. And even, dare we say it, myths.

Of course, each woman’s health and circumstances can vary so it’s important to clear any questions or concerns you may have with your doctor, particularly if you have pregnancy complications. And if you are a frequent flyer due to your work, you also need to speak to the occupational health staff at your company.

Broadly speaking though, there are many misconceptions that cause women to assume that they simply can’t take trips. So we sat down with Dr John Fysh, one of the UK’s most esteemed paediatricians and Chief Medical Officer for NurtureFirst Insurance (the UK’s only provider of Future Family Insurance), to separate fact from fiction.

Does Flying Pose An Extra Risk To The Baby?

For healthy mums-to-be with uncomplicated pregnancies, there are no added risks to the baby from occasional flying. In fact babies are better equipped to fly than we are. It sounds strange, but it’s true.

Dr John FyshDr Fysh told us: “I think that unless they’re told, women might be concerned that being up at a higher altitude with lower oxygen might affect the baby in terms of the amount of oxygen getting through the placenta. But in fact, foetal haemoglobin (the protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body tissues) is much, much more able to transport oxygen than adult haemoglobin. And so the foetus is far better prepared for altitude than the adult is. So the slight drop in oxygen saturation at altitude doesn’t bother them.” He added: “There is a slight increase in radiation when we’re up in an aeroplane, but it’s a very, very tiny amount and not of any consequence.”

Could Flying Bring On Early Labour Or Miscarriage?

There is no evidence that flying will bring on early labour, miscarriage, or cause your waters to break.

The reason many airlines don’t want you to fly from 37 weeks onwards for a single pregnancy and from 32 weeks onwards for a multiple pregnancy, is simply because there’s every chance you could give birth at that time, whether you’re at home or on an aeroplane. (Also keep in mind that after week 28 many airlines will insist on a note from your doctor or midwife stating good health, an uncomplicated pregnancy, and due date.) So do check with your carrier before you book.

It can also become very difficult to obtain travel insurance at these times too. The exception to this is NurtureFirst’s extensive Travel Insurance cover for mums to be, who cover for unforeseen pregnancy complications right up until the 40th week.

What About Me: How Safe Is It For Me To Fly In Pregnancy?

Assuming you have no other risk factors that might make flying problematic – your doctor can advise you of this – flying in pregnancy is perfectly safe.

What you must do for your comfort and health, however, is take a few extra precautions, as we’ll explain below.

Consider Your Morning Sickness And Possible Additional Discomfort

For most women, sickness is a consideration for their first trimester (after about 13 or 14 weeks, nausea tends to subside). Do you feel like the sensation of going up in an aeroplane may make you feel queasier and do you worry about having to vomit a lot? If so, you may want to wait until your second trimester to take that holiday abroad. For some women, flying at this time is no great extra strain, for others it’s the last thing they feel like doing. It really is just a case of what you feel up to.

In addition, some pregnant women experience the following discomforts while flying:

  • Retained fluid causing leg swelling (oedema)
  • Nasal congestion
  • Blocked and/or sore ears

Wear Your Seatbelt In The Right Way

Wearing a seatbelt is a must. Make sure your seatbelt strap is fastened fairly tightly across the top of your thighs and below your bump. If you require a seatbelt extension, tell one of the flight attendants.

Protect Against DVT

A deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a blood clot in your leg or your pelvis. If it works its way up to the lungs (what is called a ‘pulmonary embolism’), it can be life-threatening.

Pregnant women, and women within six weeks after giving birth, are at greater risk of suffering a DVT than others. In addition, anyone who flies – male or female, pregnant or not – has a greater risk of developing a deep vein thrombosis, because flying involves sitting for extended lengths of time. Thus, the longer the flight, the greater the risk. There are also other additional risk factors for DVT; for example being overweight, diabetic or having suffered a prior DVT.

If you are planning a short-haul flight (less than 4 hours), you probably won’t need to take any special precautions. However, your doctor will be able to assess your own risk profile for DVT and provide advice specific to your circumstances – so it’s very important that you speak to them beforehand.

For medium and long-haul flights (those over 4 hours), here are some of the general things you can do to help guard against DVT:

  • Wear special graduated elastic compression stockings – They are not the same as normal flight socks, so you will need to speak to your midwife or doctor in order to get the right size and kind for you
  • Get up and move around as much as possible – Don’t worry about bothering the people in seats next to you or feeling self-conscious; you’re pregnant and you need to wander the aisles regularly
  • Try to get an aisle seat – Then you’re free to get up whenever you want without having that repeated ‘sorry, can I just…’ awkwardness with the people in your row
  • Do in-seat exercises every half-hour or so – Airlines should provide information about them
  • Drink plenty of water on the flight, at regular intervals
  • Avoid caffeinated and fizzy drinks – They are dehydrating. Alcohol is a no-no too but you’re probably going to be avoiding that anyway obviously.
  • Choose loose-fitting clothing and comfy shoes

If you do have additional DVT risk factors, irrespective of how long the flight will be, your doctor may recommend you have heparin shots. Heparin is an anticoagulant (blood thinner) that helps prevent clots. Heparin should be injected on the day you are flying and then every day for a few days following the flight. Airport security protocols will require a note from your doctor to allow you to take these injections on board with you.

There is no evidence that low-dose aspirin cuts DVT risk, but if it has been prescribed for another issue, you should carry on taking it.

On Trip: Things To Consider

It’s not just the flight you need to think about – it’s where you’re flying to. Ask yourself:

Are There Any Vaccinations/Antimalarial Pills Required?

Dr Fysh warned: “‘For pregnant women, vaccines can be dangerous, especially live viral vaccines – things like yellow fever and others – that could theoretically cross the placenta and infect the baby. And then there are some medications that would not be advisable either. Always speak to your doctor and ask yourself: how important is this trip, really?”

Don’t Linger Long In The Heat

Dr Fysh tells us: “You do have to be careful about overheating in pregnancy, from the point of view of the health of the baby. So if you’re looking at going somewhere very hot, it’s a good idea to have a chat with your doctor beforehand, and to keep in mind that you won’t be able to do everything that the rest of the family is doing – like sitting in the sun for hours.

You’re probably going to want to spend more time in air-conditioned comfort than you usually would.”

What Are The Medical Facilities Like Where You’re Going?

In many places it should be fine but ask yourself: Are you going to be too far away from the nearest decent medical facility if, heaven forbid, something should go wrong or if you were to go into premature labour? Middle of nowhere destinations or those with poor quality facilities probably aren’t a great shout.

Get A Decent Travel Insurance Package

Being covered properly is essential for peace of mind when you’re taking a trip. If you can’t relax, what’s the point?

Many travel insurance packages won’t cover you for pregnancy complications, other than perhaps an emergency C-section. NurtureFirst Travel Insurance covers you for a wide range of unforeseen pregnancy problems, right up to your 40th week. Their £10 million cover means you have peace of mind even in countries like the USA, where medical bills can be notoriously high. For a quote, call 0800 6444 355 or visit

Above all if you are pregnant and considering a trip abroad, speak to your doctor. Knowing your full medical profile, they will be able to advise you of any particular risks to you individually, and which precautions to take.

Happy holidays!

We would like to thank the team at NurtureFirst for providing their specialist knowledge for this article.

Tel: +44 (0) 800 6444 355


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