Air Travel During Your First Trimester

by Briana Wilson

women with plane in her handAfter getting that positive pregnancy test you might feel like you're already "flying high," but what if you're actually scheduled to take off into the wild blue yonder?

You have lots of questions, including if it's really safe to travel in the friendly skies.

While most doctors say it's safe to travel in your first trimester, planning and preparing for those special pregnancy challenges allows you to enjoy your travel time.

Morning Sickness Solutions

"Morning" sickness doesn't always happen in the morning. Many expectant moms quickly discover that this symptom of pregnancy can strike at any hour. Having nausea while flying, seems like it could potentially cause undo anxiety as you try your best to avoid creating a "scene" or just doing your best not to throw up. As your queasiness sets in, an attempt to make it down the aisle could turn into a disastrous mistake if the bathrooms are "occupied."

"When I worked for the airlines, that actually happened on a flight...a pregnant woman got 'that look'...and quickly climbed over her companions in an attempt to get to the bathroom versus having a public display. The barf bags are in the seat backs for a good reason. She would have been MUCH better off as would those in the aisle seats of three rows she hit." ~MJ, Pregnancy.org member

We recommend these pointers to help you enjoy your flight, even if nausea's your seat mate:

  • Be proactive by bringing fresh fruit snacks, hard sour candies or crackers to keep morning sickness at bay. Have you tried sea bands? For some women they work miracles.
  • Aromatherapy, such as a lemon or lavender scent might be your lifeline. Not only do scents ease morning sickness, but they help counter other overpowering scents like perfume.
  • If you're battling nausea on the ground, consider booking your seat to be close to a bathroom.
  • Traveling by plane? Ask the airline for a seat near the middle of the plane over the wing. This area provides the smoothest ride and might reduce your risk of nausea on the journey. Aisle or window seat? Some women find window seats distract them while others find that looking out makes them dizzy.
  • Stay hydrated but don't down gallons of water. Too much water + turbulence isn't a great combination. Sip your water or suck on ice chips.

Risk of Miscarriage in the First Trimester

Unfortunately, one in every four pregnancies may end in miscarriage. Most of these losses happen within the first trimester. Statistics indicate that flying doesn't increase your chance of miscarriage. Let your medical caregiver know you'll be traveling. If you're experiencing early symptoms of what you suspect may be a loss, you might consider postponing your travel. Dealing with a loss away from home can be more difficult physically and emotionally. Take heart that at least 75% women go on to deliver their babies at term.

Cabin Pressure Woes

All commercial flights have pressured cabins set to the equivalent of 5,000 to 8,000 feet (about the altitude of Denver). If you come from a low altitude area, the change in air pressure will affect you somewhat. Your heart rate and blood pressure will increase to help your body with its oxygen intake. Try these tips for coping and adjusting:

  • Stay hydrated with clear liquids.
  • Listen to your mp3 player or plug in those airline headphones to help you relax and keep your blood pressure down.

Healthy women with no serious medical problems, and their baby-to-be usually have little to no trouble in a pressurized cabin. If you have severe anemia, sickle cell disease, a history of blood clots or placental insufficiency talk with your doctor or midwife before flying. Supplemental oxygen can be prescribed for use in the air.

Radiation Concerns

My doctor wanted me to be aware that some doctors believe that it's not a good idea to fly on longer flights in the first trimester due to the higher UV radiation levels at higher elevations. She also happened to mention that since the baby's vital organs develop between weeks 7 and 10, that could be a bad idea.

The American Congress of Obstetrician and Gynocologist indicates that the impact on pregnancy from cosmic radiation exposure during flight is trivial. Pregnant frequent flyers, pilots, and flight attendants can receive exposures that exceed current recommended values and suggests they appropriately modify their work schedules.

According to the Health Physics Society, "When you are flying in a jet at 30,000 feet altitude the exposure is extremely small and for only a short period. Based on our knowledge of the amount of radiation to result in birth defects or miscarriage, there is no risk from commercial flying."

Staying Comfortable on the Plane

We asked our members to share their comfort tips and have crafted them into our own handy list:

  • To prevent your nasal passages from drying up, you can always breath the steam from a hot cup of water or tea. Some members suggest taking a bottle of saline nasal spray along.
  • Stretching often can keep your circulation going - if you don't need to use the restroom, flex and wiggle your legs while you're sitting.
  • Chew on a piece of gum during take off and landing.
  • Ask the flight attendant for extra sick bags just in case. You'll feel better knowing they are available.
  • Pack some light snacks such as crackers or an apple. Find a system that works for you.
  • Ask to see if you can get an early ultrasound - if everything checks out - you're good to go!
  • Some doctors prescribe anti-nausea medication to take before flying. Some swear they would never fly without it!
  • Carry a small pillow so that you can make yourself comfortable or ask the flight attendant for a few extra travel pillows.

We'd love to hear your travel tips in our comments - we might even add them to the article!

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