Women's  Healthcare Topics is a website about pregnancy and your newborn baby.

Air Travel in Pregnancy

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Is Flying Safe?

Learn what precautions should a pregnant women take during air travel.

Air travel during pregnancy is safe, you can fly when pregnant up to 37 weeks safely. Although most airlines will allow pregnant women to fly up to 37 weeks you should be safe and check with your airline carrier’s individual policies to make sure you are not disappointed by their pregnancy air travel restrictions.

Commercial airline travel is considered safe for all uncomplicated pregnancies, and some high risk pregnancies. Make sure to speak first your physician about flying if your pregnancy is considered high risk.

Although you can fly when pregnant safely, it has been observed that pregnant women who fly frequently and who fly for long duration of each flight, such as flight attendants, are at an increased risk of miscarriage and passengers for an increased risk of preterm birth. In contrast to pregnant passengers, flight attendants do not have an increased number of early deliveries.

What precautions should a pregnant women take during air travel?

  • High risk and complicated pregnancies that may require emergency care should not travel by air.

  • All pregnant women who fly should drink plenty of fluids to remain well hydrated.

  • If you are flying for long periods of time, make sure to periodically move your legs to decrease your risk of blood clots forming. You should use compression stockings to help with mobilize and support circulation of your lower extremity.

  • You should make arrangements to have supplemental oxygen available, that can be administered for pregnant women that may not tolerate the lower oxygen concentration found even in a pressurized aircraft. If you have severe anemia with a hemoglobin blood count of less than 8g/dl and a pregnancy complicated by sickle cell disease you will not tolerate the decrease oxygen levels and will need to make these arrangements.

Is there a radiation risk in pregnancy for airline travel?

The amount of radiation you would receive during flying is well below the level that would be harmful to your pregnancy. The possible harmful effects to your pregnancy are seen with radiation exposure cumulative over one year is 100mrem. As an example the exposure to radiation would be 6mrem for a round trip airplane flight from the west to east coast across the United States. Pregnant flight attendants, and pregnant frequent fliers might exceed this level and can calculate their exposure risk at the Federal Aviation Administration Radiobiological Team web site.

Is there a radiation risk in pregnancy from the TSA scanners at the airport?

TSA currently uses two types of imaging technology you should know about. The first type is called – Millimeter wave AIT – this scanner uses electromagnetic waves to generate an outline of a passenger. The energy emitted by millimeter wave technology is thousands of times less than a cell phone transmission.

The second type of scanner is called a – backscatter – this scanner uses, low level X-ray to create a full body image. The x-ray amount that is given off from the backscatter systems is less than 0.10 microsievert. The TSA website states “An airline passenger that has been screened receives an equivalent dose of radiation from less than two minutes of flight at altitude”. You can and I would choose to opt out of both screening methods and have a manual pat down or physical search.

Traveling While Pregnant

Travel during pregnancy is safe if you have a low risk pregnancy. You will want to discuss your travel plans with your doctor. If your physician feels your travel plans are safe you will be given permission to travel up to a few weeks before your due date. You should follow some basic guidelines to make you more comfortable while traveling.

When is the best time to travel?

It may be more comfortable to wait to travel until your morning sickness has subsided. You will again want to restrict your travel after 28 weeks when you will be more uncomfortable sitting for long periods and when moving around may be awkward. As you progress closer to your due date you have a greater chance of beginning labor, therefore you may not want to travel later in your pregnancy.

If you are pregnant and traveling, here are a couple of things to consider:

  • Take breaks during your trip. This is very important if you’re planning on a longer drive. Take breaks to use the bathroom and to stretch your legs. This will help ease any discomfort you may be feeling, and it decreases your risk for developing blood clots—this is very important when you’re flying. Planning ahead for breaks will make your traveling experience better as you won’t feel rushed for time.

  • Pack your own snacks. If you’re planning on flying, you might find the airline food unattractive. Airline food tends to be loaded down with salt, which will make you feel bloated and uncomfortable. If you’re still suffering from morning sickness, be sure to bring along snacks and drinks that don’t make you nauseous. As your pregnancy progresses, you’ll notice that you get hungry more often. It’s always a great idea to have some healthy snacks nearby so you don’t faint from hunger.

  • Remember to bring your doctor’s phone number along on your trip. You never know what might happen. If an accident occurs, you can get in touch with your physician immediately and get their advice on the best course of action.

  • Take plenty of liquids along with you on your trip. This is incredibly important if you’re flying. You want to always stay hydrated, even if this causes you to urinate more often.
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