- Women's Health
Flying during pregnancy: A doctor's advice
You are pregnant; you need to fly – it is work, business, personal or whatever. Should you? Here are the issues to consider.
The Mother Mode
Once a woman falls pregnant, she instantly gets in the mother mode. This is the primitive instinct whereby protection and safety of the offspring becomes paramount. A pregnant woman’s overriding concern at this time is the safety of her unborn baby. That instinct kicks in at a very early stage of her pregnancy. This is why miscarriage, even in the very early stages of the first trimester, quite often provokes intense grief.
Radiation in air travel
The basic issue with air travel is the risk of radiation. Here is the background: There is a small amount of radiation coming from the sun at sea level. It means therefore, in normal day to day living, we are all exposed to some degree of radiation. The higher the altitude, the higher the degree of radiation. However, on the ground, however high the altitude might be, the radiation levels are perfectly safe. When you fly, you are travelling at a dramatically increased altitude. Transcontinental flights, for instance, do routinely cruise at 39,000-40,000 feet (13,000 metres) above sea-level. At this altitude, the level of radiation the traveller is exposed to is increased 64-fold compared to sea-level. These flights can last anything from 8 to 24 hours. Still, for an occasional flier, that exposure will still be safe.
Radiation is a particular concern for pregnancy. This is because; there is a state of quite rapid cell turnover during this time. This is the process that can be adversely affected by radiation. That is also the reason why tests involving ionizing radiation such as routine X ray or CT scan are not used during pregnancy unless absolutely necessary.
The amount of radiation a person is exposed to during a flight, even those long transcontinental flights, are, in fact still within safe limits. Accumulated observational data from female members of the air crews who, quite often fly frequently before they discover they are pregnant, show no evidence of ill-effect from that exposure. This is particularly valuable data because the earliest stage of pregnancy is when the fetus is at its most vulnerable. There is, therefore, enough evidence to reassure all pregnant women that flying during this time poses no particular risk of causing harm to their unborn children.
Flying during late pregnancy
Airlines and travel insurance firms have got specific policies about the latest stages of pregnancy at which a pregnant woman will be allowed to fly. The issue is not directly to do with safety. Rather, it is a precaution against the potential of labour onset mid-air where the appropriate professional help may be unavailable. Because of the unpredictability of labour onset and all the potential complications of a birth, this has the potential of a disastrous outcome, both for the mother and the baby. Some airlines will allow a pregnant woman up to 36 weeks gestation. Airlines covering long-haul flights tend to have an earlier cut-off point. The traveller needs to check with her airline as well as the insurance company (if relevant) well in advance to avoid the distressing situation of being refused boarding at the last minute.
Risk of thrombosis
Pregnancy is a thrombogenic condition. What this means is that when you are pregnant, you have an increased risk of forming clots in your veins. Sitting still over a prolonged period of time is also a risk factor for thrombosis. So is dehydration. A long flight during pregnancy could therefore turn into a perfect storm. You can’t help that you are pregnant. However, you can ensure that you are not immobile. Take regular walks and perform stretches in the cabin. Also drink plenty. That covers that particular risk.
There is no scientific evidence to back up the recommendation for low-dose Aspirin as a way of reducing the risk of flight-related deep vein thrombosis (DVT). However, if a woman is taking Aspirin for any other reason during pregnancy, she should, of course, carry on.
· It is safe to fly when pregnant
· Drink plenty during the flight
· Exercise and avoid immobility.
Enjoy your flight and your pregnancy!