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Air Travel and Pregnancy (Scientific Impact Paper No. 1)

Published: 22/05/2013

This is the third edition of this Scientific Impact Paper, which was published in 2001 and 2005 under the title Advice on Preventing Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) for Pregnant Women Travelling by Air.

The aim of this Scientific Impact Paper is to provide pregnant women and obstetricians with suitable information and clarification on whether it is suitable to fly during pregnancy.

The paper addresses risks associated with common concerns regarding the physiological and environmental changes during air travel, and concludes that the main cause for concern in pregnant women should be the possibility of preterm labour or an obstetric emergency developing during flight.

The paper recommends that it would be prudent to avoid air travel from 37 weeks of gestation in an uncomplicated singleton pregnancy, and if there are significant risk factors for preterm labour (such as multiple pregnancies) women should not fly from 32 weeks of gestation. This is also consistent with International Air Travel Association recommendations.

Some physiological changes that occur during air travel are also highlighted in the paper as a cause for increased risk of discomfort and possible medical complications in the mother. These include motion sickness, which may exacerbate morning sickness, and the duration of the flight with immobility, which increases the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

Although the risk of DVT remains small, the author offers suggestions to pregnant women flying on medium to long-haul flights (4 hours or longer) to minimise the risk further. These include the use of graduated elastic compression stockings and treatment with low-molecular-weight heparin (LMWH).

Further advice is offered to obstetricians to remain aware of conditions that may complicate the pregnancy and could lead to an increase in the risk of problems occurring during the flight, including severe anaemia, recent haemorrhage, serious cardiac or respiratory disease and recent bone fractures.