If you've got questions about jetting off before the little one arrives, we've got you covered. Whether you need to travel for business, you’re off to visit loved ones or just treating yourself to a romantic holiday before the baby arrives, it is generally safe for you to fly while pregnant. Most airlines will let you fly up to 36 weeks, but you may need a doctor’s note if you’re past 28 weeks. Even if you don’t need a note, it’s still important to talk to your healthcare professional if you’re planning on jetting off during your pregnancy. It’s also important (before you book anything) to check with your insurance company to make sure you’re covered to travel, and to check what your individual airline’s policies are.
Why is flying restricted during pregnancy?
To put it simply: so that you don’t go into labour in the sky! Although it can be uncomfortable, as long as you have no complications, flying is safe throughout pregnancy and will not harm the baby (though it’s advisable to avoid small planes without cabin pressure as high altitudes can affect the flow of oxygen to your baby). The cut off week is generally to minimise the chance of you going into labour in flight - and let’s face it, that's probably not in your birth plan! As around 50% of twins are born preterm, the cut off week is often earlier for multiple pregnancies - around 32 weeks – so it’s important to check and, of course, be honest.
Some people are concerned about x-ray machines and the radiation, but the machines you pass through at security are actually metal detectors and won’t harm the baby – this includes the hand and full body scanners.
Can it cause any health issues?
While your body is working very hard to grow a tiny human, being 35,000 feet up in the air can add some pressure and make it have to work a little harder. Sitting for long periods of time can increase the chance of blood clots forming in your legs (deep vein thrombosis) – although it is rare (1-2 women in 1,000). If not diagnosed and treated, it can be serious, and even fatal. You should look out for increased swelling (beyond normal swelling) and tenderness in your calf, aching, red skin or skin that’s warm to the touch in the affected area. This is why it’s so important to move around on the flight as much as possible (see tips below). The longer the flight, the higher the risk, and it’s more likely to happen if you’ve had it before or are overweight. You should speak to your healthcare professional about your individual risks.
Flying while pregnant can also increase nasal and ear problems (that popping sensation you get), which can be painful – try using ear plugs to reduce this.
When to avoid flying
You should always talk to your healthcare professional before flying, and they may advise you not to fly if:
- You’ve had significant vaginal bleeding.
- You have breathing problems due to lung or heart conditions.
- You’re at risk of early labour.
- You have severe anaemia.
- You’re at increased risk of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.
- You have a history of ectopic pregnancy, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, high blood pressure or documented tubal pathology (an obstruction in the fallopian tube which can cause infertility).
Tips on flying while pregnant
- It can be tempting to snuggle up with a blanket and watch back-to-back films, but it’s important to get up and stretch your legs as much as possible to reduce the risk of blood clots. If you’re planning on having a nap, make sure to set an alarm on your phone.
- Try to reserve an aisle seat to make getting up and walking around easier.
- Avoid booking an emergency exit seat, as pregnant women aren’t allowed to occupy these. For extra leg room, see if you can get a bulkhead seat.
- Do in seat exercises (aim for every half an hour).
- Drink plenty of water and pack some snacks in your hand luggage.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothes.
- Wear graduated compression stockings - it’s best to put them on while you are still in bed, on the day you fly, and keep them on until after the flight (it will also be easier than trying to squeeze into them at the airport).
- Ask the cabin crew for a seatbelt extension if needed, and wear your seatbelt under your bump.
- If you suffer from pregnancy sickness, try to put off the trip until the second trimester when nausea and sickness often subside.
- Remember your documents – you may need a letter from your doctor if you are at 28 weeks or more, as well as your pregnancy notes, travel insurance documents and EHIC card (if travelling in Europe).
- Carry any medication in your hand luggage.
- Carry hand sanitiser to reduce risks of catching something (planes are breeding grounds for germs).
- Research medical facilities at your destination before you go, just in case.
So, what do some of the policies look like?
- Between the UK and Ireland, you can travel up to 32 weeks with written permission from your doctor. From 32-35 weeks your doctor must complete an Expectant Mother Travel Advice Form. They will not let you fly from 36 weeks onwards.
- For all other routes, you can travel up to 28 weeks with written permission from your doctor. Between 28-33 weeks your doctor must complete the Expectant Mother Travel Advice Form and they will not let you fly from 34 weeks onwards.
- You don’t need medical clearance but they recommend that you seek your doctor’s opinion before travelling.
- They also recommend that you don’t travel in your last month of pregnancy and during the 7 days after giving birth.
- For flights of 2 hours 30 minutes or more, you can order a special meal to fit your pregnancy dietary needs.
- Expectant mothers in good health can fly up to and including week 32.
- After week 32, if the pregnancy is anticipated to be a normal delivery, you can fly up to the 35th week as long as you have a medical certificate.
- After 35 weeks you may be accepted to fly only on urgent or compassionate grounds.
- You can’t fly from the end of your 36th week if you’re pregnant with one baby or the end of your 32nd week if you’re having multiples.
- They recommend you carry a confirmation from your doctor or midwife of whether your pregnancy is single or multiple, your due date and that you have no complications.
- You can fly up to the end of your 35th week with single pregnancies, or the end of your 32nd week with multiples.
- You don’t need written permission from a healthcare professional but you should consult them before flying.
- You can travel up to 28 weeks without any certification.
- Between 28-33 weeks you can travel with a valid medical certificate.
- They will not allow you to travel from 34 weeks onwards.
- You can fly up to 4 weeks before your due date without a medical certificate.
- Between 2-4 weeks before your due date, you will need a medical certificate and you cannot go on flights that are longer than 4 hours.
- They will not let you fly from 2 weeks before your due date.
- As long as you have no complications, you can fly without telling them you’re pregnant up to 28 weeks.
- For single pregnancies you’ll need a doctor’s certificate to travel between 28-36 weeks, and the same for multiples between 28-32 weeks.
- After 36 weeks (or 32 for multiples) they may allow you to travel for urgent medical or compassionate reasons.
This is just a handful of policies from some popular airlines, but they vary quite a lot, showing how important it is to check specific policies before you book your flights. Also, make sure to check that your insurance and medical certificate cover you for the duration of your trip and return flight.
We hope this has helped you to understand when and how to fly during your pregnancy. It’s important that you feel comfortable and safe during any trip, so even if your airline doesn’t require a medical certificate, you should still let your doctor or midwife know of your plans in case there are any complications, and for your own peace of mind.
Wherever you’re jetting off to, we hope you have a wonderful time and a safe trip.
Let us know in the comments below if you have any questions or tips for flying while pregnant.