Some women have problems in their pregnancy that make it less safe to travel. Your doctor or midwife can tell you if this is true for you. For instance, placenta previa (a condition in which the placenta is covering the opening of the uterus) puts you at higher risk of serious bleeding. For this reason, women with a placenta previa are often advised to stay fairly close to hospitals. They should not travel to remote areas, as it would be hard to get medical help quickly if they started to bleed. For the same reason, these women are often told that they should not travel by airplane at all. If bleeding starts during a flight, it could take a long time to get to medical help.
Some conditions that make plane travel unsafe are very severe nausea, twin pregnancy, poorly controlled diabetes, and high blood pressure. As there are many others, be sure to talk to your doctor or midwife before you buy your plane ticket. If your care provider advises you not to fly, ask whether travel by car is still an option. It is often safer, as long as there are hospitals along the way in case of an emergency. However, for some women with serious health problems, no form of travel is safe. If this is the case for you, your midwife or doctor will tell you not to travel at all.
When you are thinking of flying, your stage of pregnancy is important to consider. For healthy women, travel is usually considered safe anytime in pregnancy. The second trimester (fourth to sixth months) is safest, as the risk of miscarriage or early labour is lowest in mid-pregnancy.
If you plan to travel by air, know that most airlines have rules preventing women from flying in the last month or so of pregnancy. This is mainly because they do not want women to go into labour in the air! Even if you are not that close to your due date, if you look very pregnant the airline may ask for a letter from your midwife or doctor indicating when your baby is due. Check with the airline before you buy your tickets to be sure they will let you fly, and to find out whether you will need proof of your due date.
If you need to fly often during your pregnancy, you may wonder if there are risks. For instance, most people know that radiation, such as x-rays, should be avoided during pregnancy. Every day we are all exposed to radiation from the sun and other things around us, but these levels are low. When we fly in an airplane, we are closer to the sun and so we get more radiation than usual. To find out if this could be dangerous to unborn babies, doctors have studied pregnant flight attendants who fly very often. The research has shown that their pregnancies are just as likely to be normal, and their babies are just as healthy, as those of women with jobs where they do not have to fly. So even if you must fly a lot, do not worry that it is dangerous for you or your baby.
Planning a trip when you are pregnant means you must consider many details. No matter where you are headed, make sure your midwife or doctor knows that you are going away. They can discuss any extra precautions.
Consider your destination, even if you will get there by car or other means. Talk to your doctor or midwife about any special risks you might find there. It may be wise to visit a travel clinic to get all of the information you need about disease prevention. Depending on where you are going, special vaccinations may be necessary.
Even travelling within Canada, you should think seriously about getting a flu shot. It is strongly recommended for pregnant women, and also for travellers. Plane travellers are at particular risk of catching flu and other viruses, since they spend so much time sitting close to others in the airport and during the flight. If you will be travelling by air while pregnant, this vaccine is very important! Be sure to ask your doctor or midwife about the flu shot, and any others you may need.
When you get to the airport, you may wonder about the screening machines used as you pass through security. The metal detectors (both the tall gate that you walk through, and the handheld wand used by the security workers) are considered safe in pregnancy. The x-ray machines used to screen your carry-on luggage are also safe to be near, though you should not put your hand inside the machine.
In recent years, large body scanning machines have been added in some airports, especially in the United States. There are two types - the ‘millimeter wave’ machine and the ‘backscatter’ machine. The millimeter wave scanner does not use x-rays and is considered safe in pregnancy. The backscatter machine uses low levels of x-rays. Government agencies and the companies that make these machines say that they are safe in pregnancy. However, some experts still think more testing is needed. While the level of radiation is low, exactly how low is not known. You will likely get more radiation exposure from your flight than from the backscatter body scanner. However, if you do not want to use the scanner, you do not have to do so. You can always request a physical search instead. This means that a female security officer will pat down your body with her hands, to be sure you are not hiding anything under your clothes.
One of the dangers of travel is blood clots. When you sit still for many hours, as on a long plane trip, the blood flow in your legs slows down. Sometimes the blood starts to clot. This can happen to anyone, but is much more common in women who are pregnant or have recently had a baby. The longer the flight, the higher the risk of clotting. It is also higher if you are dehydrated. To help prevent blood clots, drink lots of water.
Caffeinated drinks can make you more dehydrated. Consider wearing support stockings during your flight. Remember to stand up and walk around the airport or plane every couple of hours, and stretch your legs often when you are sitting. This helps to keep the blood flowing.
Signs of a blood clot include redness, pain and swelling in one of your legs. A blood clot that travels from the leg to the lungs can cause chest pain or problems breathing. If you have any of these symptoms at any time during pregnancy, see a doctor right away.
Whether you are in a car or a plane, seat belts are very important for your safety. Wear the seatbelt snugly across your hipbones, under your belly. Keep it on anytime you are sitting in your seat.
If your destination is in a different time zone from where you live, you may experience jet lag when you travel. Many people use a medication called melatonin to help with jet lag. Melatonin has not been tested to be sure it is safe in pregnancy. Do not use it if you are pregnant.
With common sense, planning, and the help of your care provider, you can have a safe and happy journey. Bon voyage!