When is it safe to fly while I’m pregnant?
Pregnant women often question whether flying during pregnancy is safe, and whether the environmental factors, such a cabin pressure or altitude associated with flying pose risk to their unborn babies. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) have released various scientific papers which state that there is ‘no significant risk associated directly with air travel during pregnancy, even at advanced gestations’.
If you have no significant risk factors, flying domestically until 36 weeks gestation is considered safe. This cut off point is not due to risks associated with air travel itself, but due to the increased likelihood that a women will go into labour whilst in the air, or while away from home. For international air travel, 32 weeks is the recommended cut-off, with 34 weeks the latest for return flights. If in doubt, please check with your airline, as well as your insurer, as the rules do differ slightly between carriers.
Women with particular risk factors associated with their pregnancies, such as multiple pregnancies or a history of pre-term labour are advised, both medically and by the International Air Travel Association, not to fly after 32 weeks. If you are unsure whether you should be flying, or to clarify whether you have any risk factors that may affect your ability to fly, speak with Dr. Morris directly during one of your consultations, well before you intend to travel.
Full Body Scanners
There has been talk about whether radiation emitted via airport scanners may be harmful to a fetus. Currently, there is no evidence to support this. Full body scanners use non-ionising radio frequency energy with millimetre wave spectrum. Other everyday devices, including mobile phones, also use radio frequency energy. The scanners do not utilise X-ray technology. Exposure levels of body scanners are several thousand times less than the standard maximum exposure levels considered safe, with penetration into the human body (most of the waves are reflected within 1mm of the body) lower than most everyday device exposures.
The Australian Government Travel Secure website has useful information about body scanners including their use during pregnancy:
Deep Vain Thrombosis (DVT)
Everyone that travels on an aeroplane has an increased risk of developing Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). Due to especially cramped conditions (seats in economy were certainly not designed with pregnant women in mind), decreased mobility and other factors, pregnant women may be at a slightly higher risk than others. As such, when on flights over 4 hours duration, it is recommended that you travel wearing compression stockings. Going for a short walk, and doing regular recommended foot/leg exercises is also a good idea.
Some practical tips for flying whilst pregnant:
- We recommend taking a letter stating you are safe to fly once you are ‘showing’, as some airlines may believe you to be further along than you are. This will prevent unwelcome inconvenience at the airport. Please speak to Dr Morris regarding flying, following this, a letter can be arranged at reception for you.
- You may experience increased motion sickness or ‘morning’ sickness, particularly if you are prone to it. Making sure the air-con is fully on and having plenty of water should ease this after a while.
- If eating during your flight, always pick the hot food option and avoid custard like desserts, salads and wraps.
You can read more on this topic at the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (RCOG) website.
If you have any questions about the information provided here, please do not hesitate to contact us.