Flying During the First Trimester: Is It Safe?

With the proper precautions, it’s perfectly safe to fly during the first trimester of pregnancy.
Shutterstock / Bignai

Are you worried that an early pregnancy will spoil your already-booked vacation? Raul Artal, M.D., vice chairman of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) committee on obstetric practice, says not to stress. “In the absence of a reasonable expectation for obstetric or medical complications, air travel is safe up to 36 weeks gestation,” he says. “Pregnant women can observe the same basic precautions for air travel as the general public.”  

The first trimester is an especially low-risk time to travel during pregnancy. Contrary to popular opinion, noise vibration, cosmic radiation, and cabin pressure create no increased risks for the pregnant air traveler, according to the ACOG. And if you were concerned that security equipment could “radiate” or somehow hurt your baby, set those fears aside. “Metal detectors are not a risk to the baby,” Artal says.

One issue of concern for all air travelers is the formation of blood clots, or thrombosis, especially during long flights. Pregnant women should take special precautions to minimize risks. Try wearing support stockings and/or moving your lower extremities every half-hour or so. “Wiggle your toes,” Artal suggests, “move your legs around, and take a stroll up the cabin every once in a while.” Drink plenty of water throughout the flight to avoid dehydration.

Below are a few more travel tips for the first trimester.

Check your health before you go. Travel isn’t recommended for those with high-risk pregnancy conditions (hypertension, sickle-cell disease, history of premature labor, placental abnormalities such as placenta previa, etc.) Women with preexisting medical conditions (like heart disease) should also check with their doctors before flying.

Book an aisle seat. It provides easier access for your hourly walks and trips to the restroom.

Prevent air sickness. Morning sickness and fatigue often kick in around 7 to 8 weeks of pregnancy. Ask your practitioner for tips to help with nausea, and inquire about safe anti-nausea medication to take with you, just in case.

Don't drink or eat gas-producing items (carbonated beverages, refried beans, etc.) before or during your flight. Entrapped gas expands at higher altitudes and can give you a stomachache. Avoiding these foods also prevents burping and gas passing next to a stranger.

Plan ahead. Always tell your practitioner about your plans before booking your trip. Educate yourself on hospitals located at your destination, and purchase travel insurance.

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