As a bit of a jet setter with all my work travels, I have written in the past about the effects of flying and jet lag on infertility….but now I am 31 weeks pregnant I wondered what are the effects of flying whilst pregnant?
I don’t have lots of facts for you on this blog post, I know – unlike me! However, I can tell you that the general advice is not to fly after 37 weeks or 32 weeks if you are carrying multiples. Every airline has different rules about letting pregnant women fly, so check before you book your ticket!
Just because it is OK to fly before 37 weeks, this doesn’t mean that you won’t suffer side effects of flying when pregnant!! Overall you are likely to experience leg swelling, bloody nose, ear problems and motion sickness will probably make any pregnancy related nausea worse. Deep Vein Thrombosis is a higher risk if you fly when pregnant.
Here I offer you the effects that I have personally experienced and some lessons I’ve learned along the way.
So far, I have taken three transatlantic trips in my first trimester, two in my second trimester and two in my third trimester. Two of these trips in the first trimester have required me to make two connections – that’s three legs of flying!!! These trips were quite intense on my body and took a lot of energy out of me. But overall, I survived them all! I would like to say that I got used to flying when pregnant, but unfortunately as I get closer to my due date, it becomes more uncomfortable and I discover new challenges!
Picking the right seat in advance. Choose your airline carefully! Check out the average legroom by airline here at these two websites: US Airlines overview & All airlines at seatguru.com. Even before I was pregnant I would choose an aisle seat because of my terribly weak bladder and Irritable Bowels….but this has never been so important when pregnant. Even when I was 6 weeks pregnant, I went to the toilet over 20 times on a 7 hour flight. It was ridiculous! I use the Seat Guru app to check in advance where the seat is in comparison to the toilets. I like to choose to sit about 4 rows or so from the toilet – not so close you get the smell, noise and annoying people bumping you, but close enough to make a dash for it when it is empty!!
Upgrade if you can afford it. Sounds obvious! I have tried to upgrade on the red eye (overnight flight) a few times, but have failed to succeed! Last time I was 5th on the list, and all 4 people in front of me got upgraded!! I was gutted. Showing off a big bump doesn’t help unfortunately. I had even saved up lots of my air miles just for this purpose knowing I’d pregnant at some point in the future!! I don’t have several thousands of dollars to just buy a business class seat, so I’ve stuck it out in economy for all my flights.
Drinking and Feeding yourself. Carry an empty plastic water bottle whenever possible to keep hydrated, particularly if you get stuck on the plane before takeoff or taxing after landing, it might be almost two hours by the time you get your next drink!
Fill up your carry-on bag with snacks for both journeys. I also learned that it’s important to keep snacks for the return journey too just in case you are departing a foreign airport and the shops aren’t open, or certain foods make you nauseous.
I made the mistake of relying on the lunch given out on the plane…they cooked a pasta in a tomato herby sauce and before I even got the food I felt sick from the smell of the herby sauce. That was the only choice, so I went hungry as I tried to force it down me, it just wasn’t happening! I also slept straight through an entire meal service because of my tiredness so missed out on food, by the time I got off the plane, got through customs and security again for my next flight, I hadn’t eaten for 7 hours. I was feeling so, so sick. I didn’t just have the hun-grumps I was feeling light headed and dizzy. Fortunately I had water with me at the least.
And another tip – don’t carry nuts, seeds, fruit or dried fruit otherwise it is likely you will have to declare them to customs when you land in another country– and ain’t nobody got time for that!
Getting in the Sleep. In my first trimester I was suffering a lot from pregnancy tiredness, add on a 5,6 or even 7 hour time zone difference and I am screwed. For my trip to Turkey I travelled through 4 different time zones. I strongly suggest not trying to follow a routine, rather listen to your body and sleep when you can. This is not easy to do. I had to be at work at certain times and so that meant waking up in the middle of my sleep cycle…I was permanently tired and yawning throughout the day. Fortunately, most people knew about my pregnancy very early on so they didn’t take it personally as I yawned through their briefs!!!
Remembering your Medication. This was a nightmare. I got it wrong big time with my second trip. My first trip I did the progesterone in oil intra-muscular injections and administered them myself. It was challenging and I hated it, but in terms of timing this one was easy. Do the injection just before going to bed. It didn’t matter about the time zone change because the progesterone lasts several hours longer than 24 hours, so it didn’t matter. However, this time around after struggling with giving myself the injections, I took the progesterone capsule suppositories, 3 times a day. This was really hard to do, especially with a 7 hour time zone difference. I think the first day I travelled I took too much, then on my second day and third day I forgot to take my second suppository in the middle of the day because I was so busy with work. Then I forgot to change my estrogen patches I was supposed to do on the red eye flight to Turkey. I remembered the afternoon that I arrived in Turkey when I got into the shower. So I would suggest putting reminders in a phone with the exact timings so as not to forget.
Don’t forget the sick bags. Have one of those airline paper bags in your bag just in case you are in a queue and you can’t hold it in! Fortunately, it didn’t happen to me, but there were times when I panicked I might puke and couldn’t make it to a toilet in time!!!!!
Coping with strange smells. On one flight I was sat near a man who had a bad Bodily Odour problem. I was trying not to vomit in my seat, hoping I would just get used to the smell for my 8 hour flight. Fortunately, he moved two rows forward and my sensitive nose was saved! But I have experienced smells of things I can’t bear with people sat next to me and then generally in foreign countries the smells are just different. This is something I don’t know how to resolve or overcome. It’s just one of those things I guess I’ve got to suck up. Sorry I don’t have any ideas of how to cope with this, it is more of a warning! Do you have any ideas??!
The swelling and back aches. Later into my second and third trimesters I noticed that when I got off the plane the veins in my arms were massively swollen! At first I was terrified, I looked like a freak and worried they were going to burst or a sign of something bad! But I discovered later that this is to be expected when flying when pregnant. There is also no avoiding crappy airline seats – I pack a spare feather pillow, fleecy blanket and neck pillow to make my seat more comfortable. I have also treated myself to a maternity massage where I had 60 minutes of pure bliss focusing mostly on my lower back. I have discovered in my third trimester that the lower back has quite a lot of tiny muscles I never knew existed!!
Get yourself Global Entry. I successfully applied for global entry half way through my pregnancy – this enables you to use the automated passport border control as a ‘trusted traveller’. The reason I got this was because one time I arrived into Chicago and queued for 2hrs to get through border control…I was feeling very faint by the end. Nope. I decided I am not doing that again, particularly for much later on in the pregnancy! I almost punched the woman behind me in the queue because she obviously came from a country where there was no such thing as personal space. I think the hormones didn’t help me with my patience! So I applied and got a conditional approval after two weeks of applying – then had to wait three months for an available interview slot time that I could get to. This interview was really quick and easy, it wasn’t so much as an interview for me, more of simply provide my finger prints and have a photo taken.
The other good thing about Global entry is that it also gives you TSA pre-check which is really nice…getting your shoes on and off in the third trimester is a pain in the butt so this has been a nice luxury!!! In my first trimester I travelled to Turkey, and as a result for four trips after I must have been put on a ‘list’ and got ‘extra screening’, known as the dreaded SSSS that gets printed on your boarding pass. If you ever see this on your boarding pass – it is the ‘not so secret code’ that you will get extra screening. All this means is that I got a thorough search of my bags, swabbed for explosives and a good pat down. As long as you don’t fuss about it, the security agents are pretty good about it.
Take it easy and take a taxi. I learned the hard way that a taxi is a must! I am usually good and whenever I can get public transport I do. I personally think it’s a lazy expense that some of my colleagues take. So for my first trip I took the train and walked to the hotel for 15 mins. However, this was actually a bad idea. It was warm and I was dressed for the cold airplane, I almost passed out on my walk to the hotel! Then lifting and carrying bags up and down stairs when there are no lifts is equally dumb (especially when I had my poor hyper-stimulated ovaries being tender still!).
Know who to call when things aren’t right. Have a list of phone numbers you can call in case of an emergency, get info on doctors & hospital numbers/names/addresses for where you are going before departing. Fortunately, I’ve not needed this (although I learned this lesson more recently with my experience during the Brussels attacks and the importance of having emergency contacts ready to go and not stored on your phone!).
Not for everyone – telling people you are pregnant. I know that many people do not like to tell others before the end of the first trimester about their pregnancy, I absolutely get that. But for me on these work trips it has been really helpful. I don’t feel guilty for running out of the room to the toilets when I need to, I don’t need to explain the yawning, I don’t need to explain why I am not drinking alcohol when everyone else does, generally I have felt comfortable overall because I have told people I am pregnant. I don’t need to make excuses or justify my actions or wonder if people are guessing I am pregnant!
So that’s all my thoughts! There are also some things that Baby Science Project suggested to me from her extensive work travels during her pregnancy…such as flight socks and baby aspirin. I never used these…mostly because I haven’t been able to find any socks that aren’t horribly itchy.
My OB said I am OK to keep flying up to 34 weeks, assuming I pass all my checkups! Although it is not top of my list to do when pregnant, it actually hasn’t been quite as bad as I thought. It is definitely true that the first and third trimesters are the worst for travelling. In the first trimester it’s the nausea. In the third trimester, it is just uncomfortable and difficult to move around. But….I survived to tell the tale.