Flying when pregnant

Should pregnant women be wary of travelling by air?

I trust you mean by plane, rather than by catapult or balloon.
My roommate has been recently pregnant, and her VERY conservative obstrictician (sp?) said not to fly. I think it had something to do with the changes in pressure. But then, considering all the changes in her diet the ob demanded, maybe it was just the airline food. My roommate ended up flying to the conference anyway, and as far as we know, had no problems.

I can think of a few reasons why an OB would suggest not to fly.

First, the forces exerted on you during take-off and landing exceed the normal amount you would otherwise feel. That could cause a possible problem in extreme circumstances.

Secondly, the air quality in airplanes may not be as good as is recommended. I don’t usually buy into the whole bad air theory usually, but there might be something to it. I don’t know for sure.

Third, The air pressure change. I doubt very much that this would have any effect on the fetus. This is likely just paranoia, since the change in pressure is usually minimal.

Fourth, you might experience a traumatic “spontaneous abortion” if the plane were to have a problem while you were aboard, caused by extreme fear and stress. While you likely would survive a small or medium problem, the trauma could cause you to lose the child. This is the most likely scenario in my mind, since the other problems are mostly unjustified.

Most airlines allow women to travel up to, IIRC, 36 weeks (it might be 32, I have to check.) What they are mainly concerned with is an early on-board delivery.

I can only imagine that it would be pretty uncomfortable though. Even in the early months, you still have to pee a lot, not to mention feeling pretty queasy.

Just a WAG, but it might be something as simple as that most OBs want their patients nearby, just in case.

There’s also a slight increase in background radiation at high altitudes (from comsic rays). This must (slightly) increase the chance of birth defects. I haven’t heard any stats on this- for all I know the increased chance may be too low to measure (i.e. nonexistant for all practical purposes).

An exception to this would be someone who worked on an airplane (i.e. a flight attendant or pilot). Since there have been some concerns about normal adults being exposed to radiation when working regularly on a plane, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t some concern about a pregnant woman.


It is safe to fly before 36 weeks - I have never seen any recommendations that flying be avoided before 36 weeks.

It is to do with the changes in air pressure although this is not really an issue in modern planes. Air stewardesses do have a higher rate of pregnancy loss according to some research but for the majority of women, flying is not a huge risk.

Is it safe for pregnant women to travel by air? Even during the third trimester?

In short, flying during any stage of pregnancy is generally OK, assuming your doc hasn’t placed restrictins on your activity. Air pressure changes and radiation have never been shown to be a problem.

It is my understanding that stress/trauma dosen’t really lead to spontanous miscarrige–that the old “car wreck didnt hurt her but caused her to loose the baby” senerio wasn’t valid, and that if something was going to cause you to loose a baby it would because you were pretty seriously hurt yourself (massive blood loss sort of thing).

Wouldn’t the fusalage of the aircraft block those rays though? Or do they freely go through the windows?

Airline fuselages are not designed to shield from radiation, they’re designed to hold in pressure. A very thin layer of aluminum/magnesium allow, with a little steel framework to hold it together, works fine for maintaining pressure, but a cosmic ray will hardly even notice it. You could build a shielded plane, but shielding is (of necessity) heavy, and heavy is expensive.

The Master on the subject:


Well, not to mention that some women get rather large during pregnancy and depending on the airline (and coach vs. first class) the seats are not really designed with larger people in mind. I know that isn’t a safety issue but it is something to consider.

Thanks for all the well-considered answers. My main reason for asking was in fact the radiation factor. I believe that routes closer to the poles cause more radiation, and this would thus increase the risk. However, if it isn’t even clear as to whether pregnant stewardesses are in any danger, then it would follow that the risks for infrequent flyers would be negligable.