Many women who become pregnant fear their days of traveling by plane are over…at least, for nine months or so. Between safety concerns with flying and facing uncomfortable symptoms like nausea and digestive issues, future moms may assume that it’s best to avoid air travel altogether. But if you’re expecting and you’re still up for an adventure, there’s good news: Embarking on the journey to parenthood doesn’t have to mean your journeys afar are over. Sure, you may have to make some adjustments — and you should never push yourself beyond your limits — but you can still enjoy a vacay with a baby on board.
Dr. Michael Cackovic, an obstetrician-gynecologist with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said nearly all of his expecting patients ask whether or not they can fly at some point in their pregnancy. “Flying is as safe [when you’re pregnant] as when you aren’t pregnant, providing you take a few extra precautions,” he assured. And of course, consulting with your doctor is always key. Below, check out what three doctors have to say about flying while pregnant, including some sound advice that every mom-to-be should take.
1. Timing is everything.
First thing’s first: Timing is important here, as future moms approaching their due dates should probably keep their feet on the ground. However, there is a sweet spot for flying, particularly in the second trimester of pregnancy. “The optimal time to travel is between 16 and 24 weeks (four to six months),” explained Dr. Kimberly Langdon, OB/GYN and medical advisor at Medzino Health, a digital health start-up based in the Bay Area. In addition to safety, she suggested that future moms take comfort into consideration before booking a flight. “Some obstetricians recommend avoiding air transportation after 32 weeks primarily for comfort reasons, especially on long flights,” she added.
2. Check the airline’s policy.
Keep in mind that airlines have their own safety policies, which expecting travelers should look into before booking. Cackovic pointed out that most allow passengers to fly up to 36 or 37 weeks (and in twin pregnancies, the cutoff is usually 32 weeks). However, he added, “I tell my patients to consider not traveling by air after 36 weeks in an uncomplicated pregnancy. Although safe for mom and baby, you may not want to risk going into labor at 30,000 feet!”
3. Beware of health complications.
Of course, pregnant women with complications might need to stay close to their doctors and avoid travel, altogether. “Always touch base with your OB/GYN to make sure it’s ok to fly,” advised Dr. Angela Jones, an OB/GYN and Astroglide’s resident sexual health advisor. “If you are considered a ‘high risk’ pregnancy for whatever reason (high blood pressure, multiple gestations, preterm labor, etc.), you will need to get clearance from your OB/GYN, or may even be advised against traveling so far away from your home base.”
4. Try natural solutions to alleviate discomfort.
Of course, common discomfort that’s often associated with flying — for instance, nausea, headaches, and digestive issues — can be exacerbated during pregnancy. For this, Cackovic noted that ginger and peppermint aromatherapy can help alleviate nausea, and that sucking on mints or ginger candies can also settle the stomach. Another all-natural remedy is to wear a Sea-Band around the wrist, which hits an acupressure point to ease motion sickness. Also, keep a travel-size bottle of pain relief medicine on hand for aches and pains (ask your doctor what’s safest). Needless to say, moms-to-be might consider stashing an emergency kit containing relief items in their carry-ons in case discomfort creeps in.
As far as preventative measures go, there are a few precautions pregnant travelers can take in the days surrounding travel to help ensure a smooth flight. “I always tell patients to eat normally but avoid such things as spicy foods, caffeinated drinks, tomatoes, citrus, and chocolate, as they can exacerbate the gas and heartburn associated with pregnancy,” Cackovic suggested. Being properly hydrated is also essential (for comfort and health), and sipping extra water should begin at least a day or two before boarding your flight.
5. Make the flight safer and healthier by bringing your own snacks and disinfecting wipes.
When it comes to eating in airports or on the plane, the selection can be limited, considering the extensive list of foods expectant moms should avoid. The best option is to eat before heading to the airport, and stock up on healthy snacks like granola bars, dried fruit, apples, and homemade trail mix. You can also bring a small container of peanut butter to spread on crackers, and if it’s possible to bring a lunch box with an ice pack, hummus and veggie sticks are a great option, too.
When the beverage cart rolls around, the best choices for comfort and safety are bottled water and non-citrus juices. Further, tap water, coffee, and tea should be avoided at all costs. This is because the water used in these drinks is stored in tanks on the planes and can be filled with bacteria, a potentially dangerous scenario for expectant moms.
It’s also wise to protect yourself from surface germs by bringing along a portable pack of skin-safe antibacterial wipes. These can be used to wipe your hands before eating, and don’t forget to wipe down the tray tables; remember, a lot of travelers use them and they’re seldom disinfected.
6. Best practices for staying safe en route
For expectant moms given the all-clear, the doctors share a few more best practices to stay as comfortable and safe as possible during a flight:
- Get up to stretch every hour or two and/or do calf exercises to help prevent blood clots; compression stockings can also help with this.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing.
- Fasten your seatbelt below the hip bones.
- Wear your seatbelt when seated in case of unexpected turbulence.
- Stay away from gas-producing foods and drinks to prevent discomfort.
- Drink plenty of fluids; air travel is dehydrating, but this is especially true for pregnant women.
- Always carry a copy of your prenatal record with you in case you have to see a doctor or go to a hospital while you’re away from home.
Needless to say, carrying a bundle of joy doesn’t have to mean that your sightseeing days are over, although you may have to make some adjustments. With the doctor’s all-clear and a few precautions, you can safely fly and enjoy traveling well into your pregnancy.