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Sharp Health News

Traveling by plane while pregnant

July 9, 2021

Pregnant woman on airplane
The allure of a babymoon — one last trip before your family grows — is a common part of pregnancy, and many pregnant women take to the skies on their way to a relaxing vacation.

The good news is that it is safe to travel by plane during pregnancy, while keeping a few things in mind and after a discussion with your OB provider.

According to Dr. Lisa Ann Johnston, an OBGYN with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group and chief medical officer of Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, the best time to travel is prior to 35 weeks into a pregnancy. Most airlines will not let a pregnant woman fly after 35 weeks due to the risk of delivery while in flight.

“Because a pregnant woman’s body is busy at work growing a little human, it is often important to stay especially healthy during this time,” says Dr. Johnston. “Make sure to bring sanitizing wipes, antibacterial gel, and masks, and wash your hands often.”

Dr. Johnston reminds pregnant women to continue wearing masks on planes — even vaccinated women — to protect the immune system of both mom and baby from COVID-19 and other illnesses.

She also recommends these 7 things to consider when traveling by plane while pregnant:

  1. Wear layers and comfortable clothing
    With changing temperatures in the airport and plane, it is important to wear layers for easy temperature control. The most important piece of clothing to consider is your shoes.

    “Leg and foot swelling during air travel is common and is often due to long periods of sitting that cause blood to pool in your leg veins,” says Dr. Johnston. “During pregnancy, circulation in your lower limbs is already compromised, so it is very important to have easily removable, comfortable shoes to travel in.”

  2. Support blood circulation
    “Pregnant women are at a higher-than-average risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and travel increases that risk, so walking and moving every few hours is important to help prevent blood clots,” says Dr. Johnston.

    She recommends wearing compression socks to reduce swelling and decrease DVT risk.

  3. Pack light and choose the right luggage
    In general, lifting 25 to 30 pounds is not harmful to a healthy pregnant woman. But, if you are packing for longer than a short weekend, you may have to get comfortable asking your travel partner or a stranger to help you lift your carry-on into the overhead bin or your luggage into the back of the car.

    “When you’re pregnant, ligaments loosen, balance is compromised and your joints become unstable, which makes lifting heavy items dangerous,” says Dr. Johnston. “With this shift in your center of gravity, a fall is more likely, which can be risky for both you and baby, possibly leading to preterm labor or premature separation of the placenta.”

  4. Hydrate
    “Staying hydrated will prevent complications such as contractions, constipation and fatigue,” says Dr. Johnston. “Dehydration can also increase DVT risk, so it is helpful to drink a lot of water, which can also ensure that you get up to go to the bathroom more frequently.”

  5. Use the restroom often
    During pregnancy, women carry 25% more blood in their bodies, which causes the kidneys to produce more fluids. This is why pregnant women need to urinate more often.

    “Use the restroom whenever you are near one to avoid UTIs or constipation,” says Dr. Johnston. “Empty your bladder right before you get on the plane, as there is often a delay before you can get up and move about the cabin.”

  6. Care for your sinuses
    Hormonal changes cause many pregnancy symptoms, including sinusitis — an inflammation in the lining of the sinuses. When you add in a change in environment, allergens and air quality, sinus inflammation can easily be triggered.

    Not only can blowing your nose strongly cause a headache, but with increased blood volume, it is more likely for a vessel in your nose to rupture, causing a nosebleed. On top of those symptoms, cabin pressure in a plane, combined with stuffed sinuses, can cause a particularly unpleasant headache called aerosinusitis.

    The remedy? “I recommend taking a Zyrtec or Benadryl before getting on the plane,” says Dr. Johnston. “Both are safe medications during pregnancy and will help minimize allergic sinus congestion.”

  7. Pack plenty of snacks
    “Especially now that airlines provide limited meals, make sure to bring plenty of healthy, nonperishable snacks and an empty water bottle to fill once you clear security to ensure you have enough water,” says Dr. Johnston. “Healthy snacks to collect in your carry-on are nuts, granola bars, fresh or dried fruit, and popcorn.”
Bonus tip: Check local hospitals before you travel
While finalizing your accommodations, be sure to include the distance and location of the closest hospital and pharmacy. These resources are good to have on hand if you need to call your provider with any issues.

To learn more about how you can find a doctor at Sharp Rees-Stealy, go to sharp.com/srsdoctor.

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