Whether it’s for work or travel, flying can be stressful – so it’s no wonder many moms are concerned whether it’s safe to travel by plane during pregnancy. It’s common for moms to avoid flying in the first trimester, when morning sickness symptoms tend to be at their worst, but sometimes you just can’t avoid it. So what do you need to know about flying in the first trimester? Let’s run through the basics of early pregnancy in the friendly skies.
Is flying in the first trimester safe?
It’s no problem if you happened to travel by airplane before you realized you were pregnant, and it’s not thought to have impact on the baby. This goes for the scanners at the TSA section, too: these use non-ionising electromagnetic waves that won’t penetrate the body, so it’s safe for pregnant women to go through these security scanners. However, a lot of women are still a little anxious about air travel during the first trimester. Why might that be?
Radiation risks during flying: First trimester myth or fact?
Many moms are concerned when they hear about cosmic radiation on board commercial flights. It’s true that you are exposed to some cosmic rays when you fly in a plane. However, the Health Physics Society agrees: the amount the occasional air traveler is exposed is too tiny to have any effect on your risk of miscarriage or birth defects.1For example, a round trip from New York to Tokyo would expose you to a radiation level of 0.2 miliSieverts (mSv) – well under the safety threshold of 50 mSv for pregnant women.2
What are the real risks of flying during the first trimester?
Since many expecting moms are already feeling unwell during the first trimester, boarding a plane in the first trimester can increase the risks of:
- Sensitivity to changes in air pressure, temperature and humidity
- Being stuck dealing with morning sickness mid-flight
- Deep vein thrombosis (“DVT” or “economy class syndrome”)
Even so, there are several steps you can take in advance to minimize your risks of discomfort if you have to fly during early pregnancy.
Plan for flying in first trimester
Since minimizing physical and mental stress is one of your best strategies for making it through the first trimester smoothly, it might be best to put off air travel until the second trimester if you can manage. But, if you can’t avoid it, there are some steps you can take to minimize discomfort during a flight.
Ask for an aisle seat
Sitting close to the aisle will give you a chance to get up easily and use the bathroom when you need, or just to stretch your legs.
Wear compression stockings
Theoretically, pregnant women are at a higher risk of DVT (blood clot). Wearing compression socks or stocks are thought to help reduce this risk, so this could give you some peace of mind.
Prepare for morning sickness
Have you found a morning sickness remedy that works for you? Bring your go-to anti-nausea remedies like ginger snaps or crackers with you on board just in case. Also, those barf bags on the back of the chair are there for a reason! If you’re struck by nausea and you don’t think you’re going to make it to the bathroom, don’t risk it.
Check with your OB-GYN before flying in the first trimester
Policies vary between companies, and some airlines won’t require a fit-to-fly note from your doctor until Week 28. However, you should still consult with your OB-GYN before flying to make sure it’s a good idea – particularly if you’re at risk of pregnancy complications like threatened miscarriage or cervical incompetence, or if you have severe anemia.
As long as you’re not at risk of complications, flying during pregnancy is generally safe – but it can be pretty uncomfortable! Don’t push yourself too hard when it comes to air travel in the first trimester. If you can wait until the second trimester, you might find your flight a lot more enjoyable.