Travelling while pregnant throws up (pardon the pun) some additional health and airline regulation issues that you need to consider before arranging to fly or travel overseas.
Every airline will have their own rules around the latest date you can fly before your due date. The standard cut off limit for flying without a doctor’s letter is normally between 28 and 32 weeks – however you should always check with the individual airline before travelling, and bare in mind multiples pregnancies will have an earlier cut-off date (Check out our International Airlines Review for pregnancy policy by airline).
Regardless, I have always gone to the effort of getting a doctor’s letter as soon as my bump is obvious in case I am challenged – I have only had this occur on one occasion when I was right on 28 weeks. (A doctor’s letter should simply state how far along you are, that it’s a healthy pregnancy, number of babies due, estimated due date and that there is no known reason not to travel). Check whether your airline has a specific form that needs completing and time restriction, i.e. letter dated within seven days of travel.
Note also if you change airlines during the journey, or the airline you’ve booked with runs on a code share, the other airlines policy may differ to the one you think you have booked with; you don’t want to find yourself stranded mid-travels all for the sake of having the right documents with you or not having checked the fine print.
Beyond 36 weeks, unless you’re flying situation is an emergency and a doctor is willing to provide you with clearance, it is highly unlikely any international airline will accept you for travel, and frankly I couldn’t think of anything worse than being cooped up on a plane that far along in a pregnancy! Each to their own of course and sometimes it cannot be avoided. Domestic airlines which cover shorter distances can be more lenient on these rules.
If you are suffering from morning sickness you may want to avoid travel during your first trimester and if you’re unlucky, well beyond this time until your body can cope with the demands of travel.
Most doctors also advise against flying at any time during pregnancy without a pressurized cabin (i.e. avoid small aircraft) as your body has to work extra hard to supply you and your baby with sufficient oxygen. Commercial airliners with pressurised cabins should not be a problem.
The other question that pregnant women commonly ask is about the safety of going through airport security screening. Without a medical degree I cannot authoritatively tell you it’s perfectly safe, but with my common-sense hat on and after a fair bit of research, I can tell you the chances of radiation from security screening having any sort of fetal effect are microscopic. A pregnant woman is however perfectly within her rights to request a pat down rather than walk through a screening device.
Vaccines & diseases
You may also wish to defer travel while pregnant to any location that requires vaccines that involve injecting the live virus, this includes vaccines for yellow fever, typhoid, MMR, BCG. Countries which are prone to malaria should also be avoided. If your inoculations are up to date then just take the usual precautions (see more on the Health issues page).
See our special resource page concerning the Zika virus and precautions to take against mosquito born illnesses that can have serious consequences for both pregnant women and unborn fetuses.
General advice for flying while pregnant
To avoid health issues when flying, some fairly stock standard advice should be adhered to, particularly keeping yourself well hydrated, bring along your own healthy stash of snacks and doing regular circulation exercises. Ask for extra pillows to keep yourself propped up and see if the airline will give you the bulkhead for extra leg room (see also the planning flights page) – at the very least try to get an aisle seat (or spoil yourself at this point to an upgrade, especially if you are toddler free!).
You should try to move around as much as possible during the flight – believe me you are likely to be peeing three times as often as you normally do anyway so use the opportunity to stretch your legs and walk to a bathroom further away. Whether you have other children with you or not, allow yourself extra waddle time at the airport, or be cheeky and try to grab one of the little airport carts if they will let you!
Some doctors also recommend wearing pressure socks and taking a small dose of aspirin before the flight to avoid blood clotting (deep vein thrombosis).
Ultimately the best advice is to speak to your doctor or midwife before you fly and discuss any concerns you might have, you may have extenuating circumstances if you are in a high risk pregnancy where they do not recommend flying at all, but for the average, healthy pregnancy it shouldn’t be a problem and no excuse for not continuing to explore the world.
At your destination
As for when you arrive at your destination, be careful what you eat! Many over the counter medications are not recommended for use during pregnancy, including those used to treat diarrhea so take precautions, being extra wary of uncooked meats and unpasteurized foods. If you do run in to trouble while travelling its best to seek a doctor’s advice, particularly where there could be language barriers; a pharmacy alone may not understand your situation or have qualified staff on hand (images of me pointing to my belly and my bottom in Indonesia do spring to mind here!).
It also helps to do a little research on what health facilities are available at your destination in case of an emergency and bring some documentation with you evidencing your pregnancy and expected due date. Again, a lesson I learnt all too well the hard way when I found myself searching for a maternity hospital in Cuba and not speaking a word of Spanish. Don’t expect your insurance company to immediately jump to your rescue in these sorts of situations either.
Lastly, be prepared for the fact that pregnant women can receive a lot of attention in some countries, maybe more than you are used to at home. Try to take this in a good way, smile and accept offers to help with gratitude, one day you may be able to return the favour. I am afraid bump touchers exist wherever you go in the world!
Don’t forget to check out our blog posts How to Prevent Babymoon Disaster and get ready for that newborn with Tackling your very first family flight and Travelling with a Newborn and the New Post-Natal You!
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I have included links below with publicly available information on this topic from government bodies that may help you in your travel planning.
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