Nervous about getting on a plane with a bump? Here’s all you need to know to have a safe and comfortable trip…
MEET THE EXPERT: Dr Vanessa Mackay is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist.
Fly up to 37 weeks
It’s usually perfectly safe to fly during pregnancy. There’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that flying in your third trimester increases the chances of early labour or your waters breaking. Guidelines from The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists suggest that it’s safest to travel before 37 weeks, if you have a single pregnancy. ‘After that time, labour could occur at any time, so it’s unwise to fly,’ explains consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Vanessa Mackay. ‘If you’re pregnant with more than one baby, it’s wise to lower that limit to 32 weeks.’
Wear a pair of compression socks
Ask your midwife for elastic compression socks for your flight. She will measure your legs and give you a pair that are far more suitable for use during pregnancy than the travel socks on sale in chemists. ‘These are particularly important for long-haul flights,’ says Dr Vanessa. When pregnant, slower circulation increases the risk of blood clots, which can travel to your lungs.
Pack your paperwork
Check that your travel insurance covers you for pregnancy-related medical care. Apply for a free European Health Insurance Card if you’re travelling to Europe (visit ehic.org.uk). And take your maternity notes with you. ‘This is really important,’ says Dr Vanessa. ‘They’ll give any medical professional an accurate picture of your pregnancy.’
If you’re particularly nervous about flying, take proactive steps to stay as calm as possible, both before and during the flight. The stress hormone cortisol can cross your placenta and affect your unborn baby. Snack on pumpkin seeds and bananas, both rich in tryptophan which helps your body produce melatonin and serotonin, boosting feelings of well-being. Massage is also a great stress buster, so ask your travel partner (if you have one) to rub your lower back.
Drink plenty of fluids
The pressurised cabin on a plane can make you more dehydrated and lead to oedema (water retention in the lower limbs). Drink more than the recommended amount of 1.5 litres of fluid a day to counter it. ‘Aim to drink a full cup of water every hour,’ says Dr Vanessa. ‘Drink more if your mouth feels dry or you feel thirsty.’ Avoid drinks containing caffeine as these can dehydrate you. ‘But it’s not necessary to avoid salty foods, like peanuts or pretzels, as long as you’re drinking enough fluids,’ adds Dr Vanessa.
Try not to panic if you do feel sick
Even if your morning sickness has subsided, it’s common to feel sick during a flight. ‘It’s just the motion that causes you to feel nauseous,’ says Dr Vanessa. Book a seat in the middle of the cabin, where you’ll experience less movement, And take a pack of ginger biscuits with you. Nibbling on one of them may help ease the nausea.
Walk down the aisle
The muscles in your legs act as a pump to encourage the veins to empty upwards, so take regular walks along the aisle of the plane to keep these working. ‘When you’re sitting in your seat, circle your ankles and move your feet around every half an hour to help the blood flow,’ adds Dr Vanessa.
Quiz your airline
Before you book your ticket, find out what the airline’s policy is for flying when pregnant. Check the airline’s website, or call its customer service help desk. If you’re over 28 weeks pregnant, most airlines require a letter from your midwife or doctor to say that your pregnancy is low-risk and healthy. This is simply an assurance that there’s little risk of you going into early labour or your waters breaking early.
Some airlines require a particular form to be completed. Some ask for medical reassurance from an earlier stage of pregnancy. Consider how pregnant you’ll be on your return flight – if you’re travelling in your 27th week of pregnancy, you might return after your 28th week.