I just returned from New York, so I am in “a talk about air travel” frame of mind. (The reason for the trip was a board meeting for Save The Children. They are doing some amazing work to help children, mothers and families in Haiti as well as the USA and developing countries around the world….please go on their website http://www.savethechildren.org for more information.)
As usual, I felt that the flight was interminably long, the air was dry and the food….well, I won’t discuss it here, I already did a segment about microbes on the plane. But what I haven’t addressed in the past is whether it is safe for pregnant women to fly. ACOG (the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) issued a new committee opinion in October 2009. Here is a brief summary…
If there is a complication in pregnancy, it will usually occur in the first or last trimester (bleeding and miscarriage initially, premature labor and delivery the last trimester). Most commercial airlines allow pregnant women to fly up to 36 weeks. Some may be more restrictive when it comes to international flights. (I know my daughter was told she could not fly on El AL after 32 weeks and she had to bring a letter from her obstetrician to show that she was less than that on her last flight).
Air travel is certainly not recommended during pregnancy for women who have medical problems (especially cardiac) or obstetrical problems. (The latter would include bleeding, a possible impending miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, a history or risk of premature labor, a pregnancy complicated by hypertension, diabetes or failure of normal growth of the fetus). The airlines and your doctor do not want you to go into labor on a long flight, begin to hemorrhage, or rupture your membranes (even if you are the at-that time-Alaskan governor!)
All travelers should avoid dehydration and immobilization for long periods of time; we all know about the risk of deep vein thrombosis… this is even more of an issue if you are pregnant. So wear support stockings, drink plenty of water (my advice is a 6 ounces for every hour of flight), move your lower extremities (well, if you drink enough you’ll have to make frequent trips to the bathroom!), avoid restrictive clothing (no tights) and don’t consume gas-producing drinks (carbonated sodas) or foods before flying.
And remember, there is no way to predict sudden turbulence. So keep that seat belt fastened below your hipbones while seated.
Now, let’s consider radiation exposure which increases at high altitudes. The current recommendation is not to be exposed to more than 1mSv over the course of a 40-week pregnancy. Even the longest intercontinental flights will expose passengers to no more than 15% of this limit. (So round trip should be 30%.) For the “average” pregnant flier, this should not be a problem. But if you are a frequent flier or are a part of the air crew, you should check with your employer and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Final recommendation by ACOG: “In the absence of a reasonable expectation for obstetrical or medical complications, occasional air travel is safe for pregnant women.”
And I would like to add… especially if you don’t have to fly coach!