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Is it safe to be at a high altitude during pregnancy?

High altitude is generally defined as being above 5,000 feet (1,500 m). One mile is 5,280 feet. Denver is at 5,260 feet and Santa Fe is at 6,989 feet high. Mount McKinley in Alaska is considered to be the highest mountain in the US with 20,320 ft (6,194 m) and Mauna Kea in Hawaii is 13,803 ft (4207 m) high. See also more information on states with elevations.

If you live at a low altitude and you then travel to a high altitude such as above 5,000 feet, you may be at increased risk for pregnancy complications.

Some studies suggest that living above 8,000 feet or more increases certain pregnancy complications. However, if you live at a low altitude and you then travel to a high altitude such as above 5,000 feet, you may be actually at increased risk because you are not accustomed to living at a higher altitude. It takes some time to get used to living at a higher altitude. 

What are potential complications?

There is limited data on the actual impact of high altitude during pregnancy and what's available suggests the following pregnancy complications:

  1. Fetal growth retardation
  2. An increased incidence of the complications of pre-eclampsia
  3. Neonatal hyperbilirubinemia at high altitude suggested that altitude
  4. Short-term abnormalities in fetal heart rate 

A survey of Colorado obstetrical care providers agreed that preterm labor and bleeding complications of pregnancy are the most commonly encountered pregnancy complications among high-altitude pregnant visitors. Dehydration, engaging in strenuous exercise before acclimatization, and participation in activities with high risk of trauma are behaviors that may increase the risk of pregnancy complications.

High-Risk Pregnancy and Altitude

There are patients with certain high-risk pregnancies who should consider staying away from not traveling to high altitudes. These include those at risk for premature births (twins, prior preterm birth, placenta previa). If you are concerned about whether spending time at high altitude during pregnancy may be harmful, you should discuss with your doctor prior to traveling in pregnancy to a high altitude. 

Read More:
Travel Safety During Pregnancy
Is Hiking Safe During Pregnancy?