Can You Fly During the First Trimester?

Reviewed by Terri Forehand RN
Pregnant woman traveling by plane

Whether you can fly during the first trimester is a common question that many pregnant women may have. The first trimester of your pregnancy is a critical time for your developing baby. Physical development begins, setting the foundation for many major systems of the body. Naturally, if an activity poses any potential risk to your baby, you would want to avoid it. Rest assured that in general flying during first trimester is safe, with some caveats that are important to know and understand.

First Trimester Fetal Development

During the first trimester, embryonic development begins after fertilization and implantation within your uterus. Critical systems begin to take shape and any potential negative impact can carry serious risks, which may make you wonder if you can you fly during the first trimester.

Physical Changes and Systems

The heart and circulatory system activate, along with the central and peripheral nervous system, launching all the vital organ systems for human life. Facial features begin to form, as well as the beginning of limb development. Movement of the fetus occurs as well as your baby's sex determination with the expression of a chromosomal gene. Clearly, this is a critical period in your baby's life, so it's important to assess the risks for you and your baby when considering any activity.

Assessing the Risks

Pregnancy may be an enormously stressful event for a woman. In essence, a woman is sharing her body's resources with her developing fetus, putting her under great strain and potentially vulnerable to illnesses. If you have any heart or breathing related issues, or your doctor has noted your risk of delivering early, you may be at a higher risk for having medical complications while flying since doing so can place more strain on you. Flying also carries the risk of adding additional stress to you, especially is there is a fear or phobia of doing so.

Sick woman with nausea in the airplane

Health Risks

If you are at risk for a miscarriage due to a past history or health reasons, it is critical to speak with your doctor before deciding whether it is safe for you to fly. In a study of pregnant flight attendants, results noted that physically exhausting jobs, lack of sleep, and over 15 hours worth of flying increased rates of miscarriage compared to pregnant teachers who did not fly. Some airlines require a doctor's note when flying during the third trimester due to the possible risk. Consult your doctor if you plan to fly during your first trimester or at any point during your pregnancy.

Second Trimester and Flying

As you approach your second trimester, your chances of adverse effects from flying decrease and you're likely to be feeling better than you did during your first trimester in terms of nausea and exhaustion. The risks of flying are in proportion to the potential physical damage that it may cause. Bear in mind that during the first trimester the most basic of development occurs, so it's best to err on the side of caution and discuss all of your concerns with your treating physician.

Making the Best Choice for You and Your Growing Baby

If you and your baby are healthy, then you do not need to cancel your flight reservations, however it's best to get cleared by your doctor beforehand. Your decision to fly should be based on your pregnancy and its possible risks or discomfort.

Flying and Discomfort

Flying without being pregnant can often cause motion sickness from changes in altitude and turbulence. Your chances of experiencing discomfort increase when you factor in the inevitable morning sickness that may accompany the first trimester. A long plane flight can end up being a very unpleasant event. Pressurized cabins can cause uncomfortable symptoms especially if you have breathing issues or heart problems.

Determining Whether You Can Fly Safely

For a healthy woman who is experiencing a normal pregnancy, flying is probably not an issue. Your body can take on the increase in stress due to travel. You should not fly during your first trimester if you have health issues that flying may exacerbate. Either way, it is best to ask your doctor about your upcoming travel plans. Your health and that of your baby are your most important considerations.

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Can You Fly During the First Trimester?