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Can flying in first trimester cause miscarriage?


Many women wonder if it is safe to fly during the first trimester of pregnancy. Flying while pregnant, especially in early pregnancy, can cause anxiety for expectant mothers. Changes in air pressure, cosmic radiation exposure, and the risk of blood clots are some concerns surrounding air travel in the first trimester. However, for most low-risk pregnancies, occasional flying during the first trimester is considered safe. Being aware of the potential risks and taking precautions can help ensure a healthy pregnancy when flying is necessary in the first 13 weeks.

Is it safe to fly in the first trimester?

For most women with healthy pregnancies, flying during the first trimester is considered safe, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).[1] There is no evidence that occasional air travel in early pregnancy increases the chance of miscarriage or other pregnancy complications.

However, women with high-risk pregnancies should speak with their doctor before flying in the first trimester. Those with pregnancy complications like vaginal bleeding, history of miscarriage, placental problems, or gestational hypertension have a higher chance of issues related to air travel.[2] Their provider may recommend avoiding air travel until after the first trimester as a precaution.

What are the potential risks of flying while pregnant?

Here are some of the most common concerns surrounding air travel in early pregnancy:

Air pressure changes

As the aircraft climbs and descends, cabin air pressure changes. Significant drops in air pressure could potentially reduce blood oxygen levels. However, cabins are pressurized to simulate air pressure at elevations of 5,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level.[3] This minimized change is considered safe for most pregnant women and does not appear to increase miscarriage risk.[1]

Cosmic radiation exposure

Cosmic ionizing radiation levels are higher at increased altitudes. The occasional short flights typical of air travel provide only minimal radiation exposure.[4] There is no evidence this limited exposure during the first trimester increases miscarriage or birth defect risk.[1]

Risk of blood clots

Pregnant women have a higher risk of developing blood clots or deep vein thrombosis (DVT). The immobility of air travel can contribute to blood clots in the legs.[5]

However, air travel alone in healthy women does not appear to significantly increase the risk of thrombosis if appropriate precautions are taken.[5]

Are there certain times in the first trimester that are safer for flying?

Air travel poses the lowest theoretical risk during the second half of the first trimester. The first 10 weeks encompass the highest chances of miscarriage due to genetic issues. Traveling after the 10th week may help minimize anxiety related to risk of miscarriage.

The period between 10-13 weeks also tends to be after the peak of early pregnancy nausea and fatigue. As discomfort improves around this time, women often feel they can better tolerate the air travel experience.

Of course, sometimes travel in the first trimester cannot be avoided entirely. Working with your doctor to determine pregnancy risk factors can help decide if travel is safe at any point in the first trimester.

Tips for reducing risk when flying in the first trimester

The following tips can help minimize potential risks when flying is necessary in early pregnancy:

– Stay hydrated with non-caffeinated beverages and avoid alcohol
– Request an aisle seat to facilitate movement
– Wear compression stockings to improve circulation
– Do gentle leg exercises while seated
– Take frequent trips to the restroom to stay mobile
– Avoid heavy lifting of luggage
– Move during long flights whenever possible
– Choose a direct flight route when available

When to avoid air travel in the first trimester

Some high-risk situations may warrant avoiding air travel in the first 13 weeks. Here are some examples:

– History of recurrent miscarriage or previous premature birth[6]
– Placenta previa or placental abruption
– Severe anemia
– Uncontrolled thyroid problems
– Multiple pregnancy (twins, triplets, etc.)
– Pregnancy-related hypertension or preeclampsia[7]
– Vaginal bleeding
– Severe nausea and vomiting
– Preterm labor risk factors like cervical incompetence

Women experiencing any of these conditions should speak with their obstetric provider before air travel. They may recommend delaying trips until after the first trimester as a precaution.

Domestic travel versus international travel

Short domestic flights of a few hours have very low theoretical risks related to the pressure changes and radiation exposure. Long international flights with durations over 8 hours increase immobility and have slightly greater radiation exposure due to increased flight times at higher altitudes.[4]

One study found a higher rate of pregnancy loss in late pregnancy after flights longer than 4 hours.[8] However, risks related to trip duration appear much lower in the first trimester. There are currently no recommendations to avoid long-haul international flights in early pregnancy.[1]

Precautions for air travel with multiples in the first trimester

Expectant mothers pregnant with twins or higher order multiples have a higher chance of pregnancy complications. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine states that air travel does not need to be avoided entirely in the first trimester, but some additional precautions should be taken:[7]

– Stay hydrated and request aisle seat for bathroom access
– Wear support stockings and do leg exercises
– Avoid leisure travel to exotic places with potential infectious disease
– Have pregnancy complications or warning signs evaluated before lengthy trips
– Limit total travel time as able
– Avoid strenuous activity after reaching destination

The risks of flying while pregnant with multiples are low. But a provider should still be consulted since these pregnancies can be more complex.

When to see a doctor after flying in the first trimester

Normal body changes like breast tenderness, fatigue, nausea, and urinary frequency often continue after air travel without issues. However, pregnant women should be evaluated promptly if they experience:

– Vaginal spotting or bleeding
– Regular uterine contractions or cramping
– Fluid leak from the vagina
– Decreased fetal movement
– Rupture of membranes suspected
– Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
– Abdominal pain
– Persistent calf pain, redness, warmth or swelling

These symptoms could indicate a more serious condition requiring medical attention, like preterm labor or blood clots. When in doubt, do not hesitate to contact the obstetric provider after any concerning symptoms develop post-travel.

Frequently asked questions

Here are answers to some common questions about air travel in the first trimester:

Is it safe to fly in the first month?

Occasional flying appears safe for most low-risk pregnancies even in the first month. Those with prior miscarriages or bleeding should consult their provider before traveling.

Can flying increase miscarriage risk?

There is no evidence air travel causes miscarriage in healthy pregnancies. While concerning, spotting after flights is common and does not always indicate impending loss. Those with high-risk pregnancies should consider risks before lengthy travel.

How many times can you fly in the first trimester?

There are no specific limits for healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancies. Flying every few weeks is likely safe, but those with medical issues should discuss risks of frequent travel with their obstetrician.

Is it better to travel by car or plane?

For short distances, driving allows more mobility. But for long trips, flying is likely safer as it minimizes time spent immobile in a seated position.

Can security scanners or pat downs harm the pregnancy?

Airport security screening does not pose a risk in pregnancy when manufacturer guidelines are followed.[9] Neither scanners nor necessary pat downs expose the fetus to harmful radiation.

Is COVID-19 more dangerous when flying while pregnant?

Pregnant women are at increased risk for severe COVID-19 complications. [10] The confined spaces during air travel can increase infectious disease exposure. Proper masking and vaccination helps reduce this risk when flying is necessary.

Conclusion

For most women, occasional flying during a healthy first trimester pregnancy is low risk and considered safe. But those with medical complications may need to avoid air travel until after 13 weeks as a precaution. Taking proper precautions like hydration, mobility, and leg exercises can help lower any risks associated with changes in air pressure, radiation exposure, or immobility during flight. Speaking with a doctor can provide personalized guidance on whether flying is advised based on individual risk factors. With some general safety precautions, anxiety about the risks of occasional air travel in early pregnancy can be minimized.