Air Travel During Pregnancy: Is it safe?
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Is Air Travel Safe?

Clinically speaking, you can't cause a miscarriage by travelling, but any associated stress, dehydration or inattention to possible warning signs could be a problem. Airlines have rules as regards travelling in pregnancy and would not allow you to travel if you are 32 weeks and beyond.

My recommendation would be to also look at the factors that may play a part in your decision :-

  • How important is this trip to you?
  • How much stress might you encounter while travelling?
  • Can you take frequent rest breaks?
  • Will you be able to drink plenty of fluids and eat well?

Keeping the above in mind, with adequate precautions travelling by air is safe. However it is best to check with your doctor first.

Most airlines have an upper limit beyond which they refuse to carry a pregnant woman - generally 32-34 weeks. Earlier in the pregnancy - maybe 28 weeks onwards - airlines may ask you to supply a doctor's letter. These conditions vary considerably, so please check with your airline. Once in the air, the biggest risk to the pregnant traveller is deep vein thrombosis - the formation of a blood clot in a leg vein. It is a rare, but a serious complication of any pregnancy. The risk of thrombosis is increased by immobility and dehydration. In order to reduce the risk of thrombosis you should try to book an aisle seat to give you some extra leg room, drink plenty of fluids during the flight and get up and walk about for a few minutes every hour or so. This is why you require an aisle seat, so that you do not become a nuisance to your fellow travellers.

Somewhere along the way while writing this article, I came across information on radiation exposure while air travel. It is said that a one-way New York to London flight or any other flight of that duration and distance at high latitudes or altitudes, exposes passengers to about the same amount of radiation as a single chest X-ray!

In-flight radiation originates from the sun and "deep space" by penetrating the aircraft fuselage. However many studies have shown that there is no increased risk of miscarriage by radiation exposure due to flying

According to a recent paper assessing exposure to cosmic radiation during long-haul flights [Source: Radiat Res. 153(5 Pt. 1): 526-32; 2000], the radiation exposure received by passengers during a Concorde flight is about 1 millirem (mrem-a unit of radiation dose) per hour. This is a good reference since the Concorde flies at approximately 55,000 feet and a jet may be between 40,000 and 50,000 feet. Put in perspective, that is about one day of normal background radiation (radiation exposure we receive every day from naturally occurring radiation sources). The dose that is allowed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a pregnant woman who is occupationally exposed to radiation is 500 mrem.

Precautions

At this point, there is only limited advice from scientists. They say that during solar flares, when radiation exposure can multiply a hundred times, (i.e., a Transcontinental flight can then equal a hundred chest X-rays) pregnant women should not fly.

Hence if you are pregnant and planning to fly, plan your trip to choose flights at lower latitUdes because flights over the Polar Regions sustain double the radiation as flights over the equator. There was one web site that I came across which gives information if there is excessive radiation in the event of a solar flare. Log on www.sec.noaa.gov. to the Space Environment Center for up-to-date information on solar flares.

Again, if you have time to plan, choose flights at lower altitudes as well because radiation doubles every 6,500 feet (2,000 meters). Specifically, the jets which fly at higher altitUdes are the ones usually found on the long-range routes: the, Concorde, Boeing 747SP, Boeing 747-400, Boeing 767­300ER, Airbus A340-200, and MD-ll.


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