Our reasons for travelling are diverse – business, visiting friends and relatives, attending a wedding, or maybe just a holiday you’ve been looking forward to for so long. Everything is arranged for your upcoming trip and flight. Then, just a few days before departure you discover you’re pregnant! Will flying be dangerous, whether for yourself or the unborn child? Are there health risks associated?
To come straight to the point, flying when you are pregnant will not harm the foetus and there is no scientific evidence of an increased risk of miscarriage, birth defects, or premature birth. The foetus is well protected from changes outside the mother’s body, such as variations in air pressure and humidity in the aircraft cabin
Pre-travel advice and immunisation
Depending on your destination, advice about vaccination and malaria prevention may be different if you are pregnant. That’s why it is extremely important to be properly informed, especially when visiting countries where infectious diseases such as malaria are prevalent. In some cases, travel to a country could even be discouraged because of the risks. Pregnant women or women who want to get pregnant should also avoid travelling to countries with outbreaks of Zika. You can find more advice about this on our website.
How far into your pregnancy can you fly?
KLM recommends that women who are more than 36 weeks pregnant should not fly. We also discourage flying – for you and your child – during the first week after birth. If you are expecting a multiple birth, we recommend that you consult your doctor before any flight. If you have had complications in the past, you will always need your doctor’s permission to fly. We also recommend that you carry a recent pregnancy statement with information about the due date and other relevant information. In many countries airline staff may want to see that. Regulations differ from one airline to the next, so always check before you travel.
In a normal situation, the cosmic radiation exposure of a return trans-Atlantic flight can be compared to the same amount of exposure as when you have a chest X-ray. As with X-rays, any radiation can cause damage to genetic material inside a cell. However, there is no evidence that a trans-Atlantic flight increases the risk of abnormalities. To be on the safe side it is recommended to avoid frequent air travel when pregnant. For KLM flight crew there are special regulations regarding exposure to cosmic radiation.
Increased risk of thrombosis
If you are pregnant, you already run a greater risk of developing thrombosis. Flying will increase this risk. Deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) is a potentially life-threatening disorder in which blood clots can form in the deep veins of the body, particularly the legs. In an aircraft, the dehydration caused by the dry air may thicken your blood. In addition, the relative immobility of sitting in a confined space for a long period can cause blood to collect in your legs.
There are a few things you can do to prevent or reduce the risk of thrombosis:
- During long flights, walk around the cabin every 15 to 30 minutes, if possible
- Do some simple stretching exercises while you are seated
- Only sleep for short periods – up to 30 minutes at a time
- Move around after every nap
- Drink plenty of water
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine
Wearing compression stockings can also help.
If you are worried about DVT during the flight, consult your doctor beforehand to discuss how to best reduce the risk.
All in all, with a little extra preparation, the same thing applies as always: Sit back, relax and enjoy your flight!