from Roger W. Harms, M.D.
Generally, commercial air travel during pregnancy poses no special risks to a healthy pregnant woman or her baby. Still, if you're pregnant, it's best to check with your health care provider before you fly. Certain conditions in pregnancy — such as severe anemia, sickle cell disease, clotting disorders and placental insufficiency — can increase the risk of problems.
If you have flexibility in your travel plans, midpregnancy (14 to 28 weeks) may be the best time to fly. This is when you're likely to feel your best — and the risks of miscarriage and premature labor are the lowest. Your health care provider may restrict travel of any type after 36 weeks of pregnancy or if you're at risk of preterm delivery.
When you fly:
- Check the airline's policy about pregnancy and flying. Guidelines for pregnant women may vary by carrier.
- Choose your seat carefully. For the most space and comfort, request an aisle seat. For the smoothest ride, request a seat near the front of the plane.
- Buckle up. During the trip, fasten the lap belt under your abdomen and across the tops of your thighs.
- Promote circulation. If possible, get out of your seat for a short walk every half-hour or so. If you must remain seated, flex and extend your ankles often.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Low humidity in the cabin is dehydrating.
Women who are concerned about air travel during pregnancy often worry about air pressure and cosmic radiation at high altitudes, but these issues aren't usually problematic. Decreased air pressure during flight may slightly reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood, but your body will naturally adjust. And although radiation exposure increases at higher altitudes, the level of exposure for the occasional traveler isn't a concern.
There's a caveat for frequent fliers, however. Pilots, flight attendants, air marshals and others who fly often may receive radiation exposure that exceeds current recommendations. If you must fly frequently during your pregnancy, discuss it with your health care provider.