Way back when commercial air flights began, there were initially concerns about changes of air pressure inside the cabins and exposure to radiation when you are high up in the air. Nowadays, cabins are well pressurized, and do not change that much, and exposure to radiation is less of a concern.
In the first trimester, concerns of potential pregnancy complications include miscarriage or harm to the developing fetus. Flying has not been shown to increase either risk.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) feels that air travel is not harmful to a pregnant woman or her fetus. ACOG suggests that the best time to travel is from the fourth through the sixth month of pregnancy, because by this time your body has adjusted to pregnancy, you probably have more energy, and morning sickness is usually no longer a problem. ACOG does not don’t deter women from flying in the first trimester.
The rule of thumb for both domestic and foreign trips, or for that matter for anything you do in pregnancy is to follow your body's signals.
Your own physical feelings are among the best guides to your well-being and safety--on the road as well as at home.
Here are several suggestions to make it less stressful:
- When making reservations, be selective in your scheduling, you may want to consider the amount of time it takes for you to reach your destination. Make sure you follow the most direct route, to decrease the total time you are in the air.
- Keep your travel plans as flexible as possible. Problems can develop prior to your departure that may require cancellation of your trip.
- Consider ordering a special healthier and fresher meal such as those for people following a low-sodium diet. Take some crackers, juice, water, or other light snacks with you to help prevent nausea.
- Do not take any prescription or over-the-counter drugs before checking with your doctor. This includes motion-sickness pills and laxatives.
- Take a copy of your medical record with you if you will be traveling far from home. You may want to schedule a prenatal visit before you leave.
- If you plan to be away from home for more than a few weeks, you could miss an appointment with your doctor. Ask your doctor to give you the name of another doctor in the area where you will be staying in case of an emergency.
- Steer clear of luggage X-ray devices.
- Spend at least ten minutes of every hour walking the aisle to avoid cramps, back pain, or the chance of blood clots. It will also decrease swelling and help make you more comfortable. Exercise a little during that time to improve blood flow through your legs.
- Empty you bladder before boarding a flight, shortly before landing, and regularly during the flight to prevent it from filling up to much. A full bladder increases your discomfort and the risk for bladder infections.
- If you're traveling overseas, ask your doctor if you'll need any immunizations, and tell her/him that you are pregnant.
- Ask which medications you can safely take for nasal congestion, motion sickness, or other travel-related ills.
- Wear loose-fitting shoes (your feet may swell during the flight) and comfortable clothing (avoid pantyhose or other constricting underwear).
- Don’t carry luggage that’s too heavy and consider using “roll-on suitcases”.
- You may want to take along a sleep mask, additional pillows, and earplugs for comfort.
- Some people have suggested in order to ward off viruses in the plane's air, to make a personal humidifier out of a wet handkerchief
Although travel during pregnancy is safe in most cases, it is not recommended for women who have serious health problems that need special medical care. If you have a “high risk pregnancy” you should discuss with your provider whether flying is a good idea.
The vast majority of women can travel safely until close to their due date if they follow a few simple guidelines.
If you are unsure about whether travel is safe for you, ask your doctor.