Generally, air travel is usually safe for pregnant women and their baby. Having a child is a life-changing event and babymoons are popular as a last chance to get away hassle-free. Plan well ahead and speak to your doctor, obstetrician or midwife before you book any air travel.
1. The best time to fly is in your second trimester
If you don’t have any pregnancy complications, the second trimester is an ideal time to fly. You’re likely past the morning sickness and fatigue from your first trimester, and the risk of miscarriage is much lower. While travelling in the third trimester can be uncomfortable with your large belly.
2. Check with airlines or a travel agent if there are any restrictions
If you’re healthy and have no medical issues or pregnancy complications, you won’t have any travel restrictions up until 28 weeks during your third trimester. However there may be strict restrictions if you’re expecting twins or have pregnancy-related health issues.
Some airlines have certain rules for pregnant women who travel on a plane after 28 weeks and may have a cut-off when pregnant women will not be allowed to fly. Airlines are probably worried about childbirth during a flight as air travel around 34 – 37 weeks of pregnancy could trigger premature labour.
Before you fly, get a medical certificate or letter from your doctor, obstetrician or midwife with some information about your health and pregnancy, such as your estimated due date, that you have no pregnancy-related health issues, and confirmation that you’re OK to fly for the entire flight travel time.
3. Avoid travel to certain countries, especially developing countries
Malaria is an infection spread by mosquitoes. Getting malaria while pregnant can cause miscarriage, premature labour or stillbirth. Malaria is present in parts of Asia, Africa, Central America, South America, the Pacific Islands and the Middle East.
Speak with your doctor, obstetrician or midwife about preventing malaria if you’re thinking about going to a country where malaria is present. It’s important to take precautions to prevent malaria, such as avoiding mosquito bites. There are anti-malarial medications but not all are safe for pregnant women. The safest option is to avoid travelling to an area that is prone to malaria infections.
It isn’t recommended that pregnant women travel to countries with a current Zika outbreak. The Zika virus is also spread by mosquitoes and can cause serious birth defects. Speak with your doctor, obstetrician or midwife if you’re thinking about travelling to a country at risk of the Zika virus. Unfortunately there are no medications to prevent Zika so it’s important to avoid mosquito bites.
You may be at risk of other infections or illnesses, such as food poisoning, that are more common in developing countries. When planning your trip, also think about what health or medical services are available if you get sick, and the risk to you and your baby if the standards in a developing country are lower than Australia.
4. Reduce your risk of blood clots
Long flights (e.g. more than 4 hours) or sitting in a cramped place for a long time can reduce blood circulation which can lead to a blood clot, called deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which is often seen in the leg. DVT is a serious condition, and can be life-threatening if the blood clot moves around to other parts of your body. All adults travelling by plane are at risk of DVT, but the risk is increased during pregnancy (and 3 months after childbirth).
You can lower your risk of blood clots on a plane by:
- Drinking plenty of water and avoiding caffeine to prevent dehydration
- Moving around the aircraft often, if possible
- Stretching and exercising your legs frequently when sitting
- Wearing compression stockings or socks to help blood circulate
- Avoid wearing tight or restrictive clothing.
When booking travel, consider booking an aisle seat or a seat with additional leg room. Speak with your airline or travel agent about any other ways you can make your flight more comfortable.
5. Check if you need any travel vaccines
Ideally you would have already received up-to-date vaccinations months before you got pregnant. Discuss travel vaccinations with your doctor, obstetrician or midwife as early as possible. Some vaccines, such as hepatitis A, tetanus and diphtheria are safe during pregnancy and may be recommended for pregnant women traveling to certain countries.
The flu vaccine (influenza) and whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine are safe and recommended during pregnancy.
6. Check your travel insurance carefully to make sure it covers pregnancy
Carefully read product disclosure statements and fine print of travel insurance policies. Pregnancy may be considered a pre-existing medical condition and some insurers may not cover pregnancy-related health issues at all. Some policies have many exclusions, such as pregnancy as a result of assisted reproduction (e.g. IVF), a specific cut-off point (usually from 33 weeks), childbirth, or care of a newborn baby.
You may be reassured to know that there are special healthcare agreements with 11 countries that cover the cost of medical care when Australians visit. These agreements are called Reciprocal Health Care Agreements. However, it is still recommended that you get travel insurance.
Countries part of this arrangement include New Zealand, the United Kingdom and various European countries. Each country has a different agreement on what it covers and doesn’t cover.
Make sure you pack your Medicare card as you may need to show it at a hospital or to a doctor overseas to prove you’re eligible.