Most women can travel safely while pregnant. Flying does not increase your risk of early labour or miscarriage.
Flying may not be recommended if you:
- have a condition affecting your blood cells, such as anaemia or sickle cell disease
- have any condition affecting your heart or lungs that makes it hard for you to breathe
- are at risk of premature labour, for example if you previously had a premature birth
- recently had a vaginal bleed
Long-haul flights (more than 4 hours) can be more uncomfortable than short haul flights. There is also a higher risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (clots in the legs) on long-haul flights.
Before you book
Things you should check before arranging flights:
When it is safe to fly
If you are pregnant with 1 baby, the safest time to fly during pregnancy is before 37 weeks. If you are pregnant with twins the safest time is before 32 weeks.
It is a good idea to speak to your GP, obstetrician or midwife before you take a flight.
After 28 weeks, the airline may ask for a letter from your doctor or midwife confirming your due date. This is to make sure you are not at risk of complications.
Many airlines do not allow women to fly after 37 weeks, so make sure you check with your airline before booking.
Before you book, find out if there is a maternity hospital close to your destination. You should also know if there are facilities for premature babies in the event of premature labour.
Cost of medical care overseas
Check that your travel insurance covers you while pregnant. This includes if you need to be admitted to hospital abroad or have other associated costs.
For example, you may have to stay in hospital for several weeks if you develop ruptured membranes or threatened pre-term labour. You may also not be able to fly for a period of time after discharge from hospital.
If you’re travelling to Europe, get a European Health Insurance Card.
It is free and allows you to get free access to public health services in:
- European Union (EU) countries
- European Economic Area (EEA) countries
The card entitles you to necessary healthcare if you become ill or injured while on a temporary stay. It does not cover private treatment.
Talk to your GP or obstetrician if you are travelling to a place which requires vaccinations. Make sure you get the correct vaccinations needed for risk areas.
What to pack
Make sure you bring:
- any medicines in your hand luggage, including folic acid
- a letter from your GP and medical notes, if you carry them
Common concerns while flying
Concerns you may have include:
Worsened pregnancy symptoms
Pregnancy symptoms may get worse when you fly. These include a blocked nose or ears, swollen legs and morning sickness.
You will have to go through all of the usual security checks at the airport. Walking through the security scanner is not harmful for you or your baby.
You must wear a seat belt when flying. Ask the cabin crew for help with this if needed.
Anyone who flies is exposed to a slight increase in radiation. Occasional flights do not put you or your baby at risk.
Speak to your manager or occupational health department if you:
- are a member of a flight crew (like a pilot or flight attendant)
- fly regularly as part of your job
Deep vein thrombosis
Your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is increased when pregnant.
DVT is a blood clot that can form in your leg and can be very dangerous.
This is more likely to happen in flights over 4 hours (long-haul flights).
To reduce your risk and help your circulation:
- wear loose clothing and comfortable shoes
- take regular walks and do in-seat exercises
- drink plenty of water
- wear graduated elastic compression stockings - your midwife, GP or pharmacist will need to measure you
If you have other risk factors, an injection of heparin (blood thinners) may be recommended.
Going into labour on the plane
Going into labour or having your waters break on a plane can be a frightening experience.
There may be doctors or midwives among the passengers who can help you birth your baby safely. Cabin crew may have had some training in this. But this is not guaranteed.
The pilot may have to divert the plane to the nearest airport to get help for you.