“Is there a doctor on board?”
This time-honoured cry went out recently on a British Airways Jumbo midway over the Atlantic. Luckily, there was a doctor – and a retired midwife, too. By the time the plane touched down in Canada, Flight 215 had acquired one extra traveller – a premature but healthy baby girl.
So long as the guidelines are followed, flying when pregnant is safe and can even be comfortable. Like much of travel, the secret is in planning ahead and being organised when you go. These tips should get you started.
When to travel
Before planning any trip when pregnant, check with your GP. Although flying is fine for most expectant mothers, there are certain conditions where it’s not advised.
The first trimester (up to the end of week 12) holds the greatest chance of miscarriage in general. While there’s no evidence that flying increases this risk, you should consider how you’d feel and where you’d get medical help if the worst did happen. For many women, nausea, tiredness and sinus problems are also at their worst during the early weeks of pregnancy, and flying can aggravate all of these.
During the second trimester (13–27 weeks), energy levels are usually higher, the risk of miscarriage has reduced, and you’re not yet heavily encumbered. This is a great time for a holiday boost.
During the third and final trimester, fatigue and discomfort progressively return. Because of the risk of premature labour, airlines limit how late you can travel. Most let you fly until 36 weeks (32 with twins), but rules vary, so always check on the airline’s website and, if you’re unsure, by speaking to a representative. Note that after 28 weeks, airlines normally require a doctor’s letter confirming your fitness to fly, but again, check airline websites carefully as details differ by company. It’s crucial to remember to use your return flight when calculating dates, adding a couple of days in case of delays.
Before you go
If you have a choice of airlines, research which is the best option for you. Traditional airlines need not cost the earth (particularly for mid-week flights to mainstream holiday destinations) and can offer advantages over budget carriers, including more convenient departure times, more central airport locations requiring shorter transfers, baggage allowances, pre-allocated seating, assistance if there’s a cancellation or delay, in-flight service and, most importantly, legroom.
If you can afford it, now may be the time splash out on that upgrade you’ve always fancied. Premium Economy buys more space; Business/Club adds relaxing lounge access and fast-track check-in. Top airlines such as British Airways and Virgin have lie-flat beds on most long-haul routes.
Make copies of relevant medical records. Some hospitals abroad will delay treatment unless you can prove you’re pregnant and supply details, while if your belly’s big, airline staff may also ask for proof of your estimated due date. Remember, too, that you’ll need a prescription for back-up supplies of any medications you’re taking. You’ll also need a doctor’s letter to take liquids or hypodermics onto the plane.
Research hospitals and English-speaking doctors at your destination via the Internet, and take their contact details and location maps. Find out the local ambulance emergency number (112 works across Europe, 911 in the States).
Make sure you have good travel insurance. Check for pregnancy-related exclusions and restrictions. If you’re travelling in Europe, don’t forget to bring your European Health Insurance Card.
Try to arrange transfers before you go; your journey will be much less stressful if you have transport in place at the other end.
Pack as lightly as you can, keeping medical paperwork in your hand baggage. If you’re travelling alone, ask for assistance carrying luggage at either end, and lifting baggage into overhead lockers.
On the day
• Dress comfortably, in loose-fitting clothing and footwear.
• If you can, check in and select seats online or by text in advance. Aisle seats give the most room; seats over the wings are the least bumpy. Note that for safety reasons, you’re not allowed to sit in emergency exit rows if pregnant.
• To minimise stress, arrive at the airport when directed and complete the formalities in good time. Make your way to the gate as soon as your flight’s called.
• At the gate, tell the staff you’re pregnant; traditional airlines should let you pre-board.
• In the air, eat moderately and drinks lots of liquid. Wear your seat-belt low over the pelvis and keep it buckled whenever seated.
• During pregnancy you’re much more susceptible to DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis, a potentially life-threatening consequence of restricted movement and poor circulation). Standard guidance when flying is to wear compression stockings (available at high-street chemists), avoid crossing your legs and walk around every 30 minutes. If you can’t get up, rotate your ankles, flex your knees and wriggle your toes.
• After landing, remain seated until the plane clears.
If flying seems too much, think about taking a break by train. Rail is the most comfortable and safe form of travel during pregnancy, as well as being environmentally friendly. Paris by lunchtime is easy, while the Mediterranean can be reached in time for dinner.
NHS Direct (advice on safe flying in pregnancy)
NaTHNaC (info on DVT during flying)
MediLexicon (global hospital directory)
International Emergency Numbers
Seatguru.com (airline seat maps)
Airlinequality.com (airline and airport reviews)