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Is it safe to travel by airplane during pregnancy?

Robert W. Chalmers, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
Flying during pregnancy is a common question that we get. Patients need to travel. There are a couple of restrictions on flying. Most airlines will not let you fly after 36 weeks, so most patients need to complete their travel by four weeks before their due date. The other issue with flying is that when they pressurize an aircraft, they pressurize it not exactly to atmospheric pressure, but to slightly less. So there is overall less oxygen inside an airplane that would be available on the ground. They've done several studies looking specifically at people who work in airplanes—pilots, flight attendants, and other staff that work in airlines—and they found that that has no untoward effect on the babies. There was normal fetal growth, normal fetal development, and there was no increase risk of fetal distress. So flying is safe.

We usually recommend that patients get up every one to two hours during a long flight to help stretch their legs. We know that there is an increased risk of blood clots that can occur, especially with long-haul flights, and as long as the patient gets up and moves around in the cabin during a longer flight, and as long as she has completed her travel before 36 weeks, flying can be very safe during pregnancy.
You can fly while pregnant, but there are certain precautions you should take before traveling by air. If at all possible, limit your air travel to the middle of your pregnancy, between weeks 14 and 28. Also, limit the number of hours of flight time per day to about six, stay hydrated, and periodically move around and stretch your legs to improve circulation. After 34 weeks, most doctors suggest avoiding air travel because of the risk of giving birth without medical attention available.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.