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Flying while pregnant. Safety issues and travel insurance

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If you are thinking about flying during pregnancy, you may, first of all, wonder whether it is safe for you to do so while pregnant.

A survey done in the UK in 2017 shows that 54 per cent of those aged 18 to 34 thought travelling during pregnancy was risky. The truth is, travelling during pregnancy carries only a relatively small risk.

One of the risks of flying for pregnant travellers is DVT, or deep vein thrombosis. You are more susceptible to this when you are pregnant. Sitting on a plane for more than four hours also increases your risk of developing blood clots.

This does not mean you should not fly; it just means that you should take more precautions to lower your risks of developing blood clots. You can do this by moving your legs frequently when you are on long trips, stretching your legs and doing specific exercises. Get up and walk around the plane every hour or so and consider wearing compression stockings, as this can stop blood from pooling in your legs.

As long as you’ve had a straightforward pregnancy, it is fine for you to travel. However, you may wish to speak to your doctor about it to be doubly sure.

Generally, the view is that the safest time to fly is before you hit 36 weeks, after which there is the possibility of you going into labour. Airline restrictions for pregnant women vary according to the airline operator, so you should check with the airline on their policy.

Some women prefer not to fly during the first 12 weeks due to nausea and morning sickness. Another reason they may not want to fly is that there is a greater chance of miscarriage during this period.

If you want to fly after week 28, some airlines may ask for a letter from your obstetrician confirming the date of your due date and if you are at risk of complications.

Travel insurance cover for pregnant travellers

Like any other traveller, expectant mums should also make sure they buy travel insurance for themselves when they are travelling, whether for work or holiday.

You should find out what you are covered for before you take up the insurance policy. And remember to read the terms and conditions.

As for any other traveller, your travel insurance should cover you for medical expenses, medical repatriation or emergency medical evacuation, personal liability, lost and stolen luggage and flight cancellation. This is fairly basic coverage.

Your travel insurance plan should cover you for the different stages of pregnancy, up to your full term. However, you should take note of the following points:

*Travel insurance generally covers you for pregnancy complications but may not cover you for routine treatments or a normal birth. This means your travel insurance will reimburse you if you have to cancel a trip due to pregnancy complications. Some examples are dehydration due to morning sickness, incurring a fall due to dizziness caused by pregnancy or trip cancellations due to gestational diabetes.

*There may also be restrictions regarding being covered for complications associated with premature birth within the first 32 weeks.

Airline travel tips

When you're pregnant, the safest time to travel is during your second trimester (18 to 24 weeks), when your risks for miscarriage and preterm labour are lowest. During your third trimester, it's best to stay within 480 kilometres of home, in case of sudden changes that need medical attention.

Check with the airline for its requirements before you book a flight. Some airlines do not allow women more than 35 weeks pregnant to fly.

Carry written documentation of your due date when travelling. Some airlines ask to see this information.

Wear your seat belt strap over your lower lap/upper thighs. When in flight, keep your seat belt fastened as much as possible in case of turbulence.

Take a few walks while on a long flight to increase the blood circulation in your legs. Choose an aisle seat if possible. This will make it easier for you to move around on the plane.

Avoid air travel when:

  • You've reached your 36th week of pregnancy.
  • You have a placenta-related problem or have risk factors for early (preterm) labour.
  • Your doctor has advised against it, based on your medical history or current condition.

If you travel by plane frequently as an airline pilot, flight attendant, air marshal, or courier or on business, it is possible for you to exceed the cosmic radiation limit considered safe during pregnancy (1 millisievert, or mSv). The occasional flight doesn't pose a risk, but frequent low-altitude domestic flights or several high-altitude international flights may increase a foetus's risk of developing cancer during childhood.

Want to know how to survive a no-frills budget flight? Find out more. And check out our article on tips for travelling with young children here.

Wherever you go, whatever you do, it's vital to have good car, motorcycle and travel insurance cover.
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