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I've heard that flying can harm a developing baby when the mother is pregnant.

What happened to my partner is that she missed her period and took a flight after being one and a half months pregnant. Only after the flight did we meet and take a pregnancy test which resulted positive.

My partner did not know flying could harm the baby. What is the truth about possible impacts that flying can have on your baby and what kind of damage can result? Am I getting too worried or do I have reasons to be worried?

migrated from parenting.stackexchange.com Sep 21 '17 at 16:27

This question came from our site for parents, grandparents, nannies and others with a parenting role.

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    I've never heard of such a thing (but I'm not a doctor). When she goes to the doctor for her pregnancy exams, ask them. They are the experts so they should know. – Becuzz Sep 21 '17 at 13:36
  • @Becuzz - People are subject to more radiation at high altitudes. This is actually a problem with pilots (who get more skin and brain cancers) and stewards/stewardesses. Flying a long distance (intercontinental) at a high altitude (50K+ miles above the earth's surface) increases risk, but only very slightly. – anongoodnurse Sep 21 '17 at 16:15
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    @anongoodnurse Just because I like to pick at nits, it's 50k feet... 50k miles would be 1/5 of the way to the moon, and definitely much higher radiation risk! – Joe Sep 21 '17 at 17:48
  • @joe the distance to the moon is 384.000 km. Also I think most planes dont go above 40k feets. – Juan Carlos Oropeza Sep 21 '17 at 18:46
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    @Joe - LOL! It reminds me of that scene in "Catch Me if You Can" where Leo DiCaprio is interviewing young women for stewardess positions, and one of them 'pretend announces', Ladies and gentlemen, We'll be traveling at 6,000 miles per hour at an altitude of 300 feet.” Hahahahaha! – anongoodnurse Sep 21 '17 at 21:16
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Specific to the health of the baby, no, you should not have any concerns over a single flight, or even over an occasional flight. From the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is this helpful guide to air travel during pregnancy, where they specifically discuss a few risks which I will summarize below. All of this assumes a healthy pregnancy, and before term.

The abstract summarizes it well:

In the absence of obstetric or medical complications, pregnant women can observe the same precautions for air travel as the general population and can fly safely. Pregnant women should be instructed to continuously use their seat belts while seated, as should all air travelers. Pregnant air travelers may take precautions to ease in-flight discomfort and, although no hard evidence exists, preventive measures can be used to minimize risks of venous thrombosis. For most air travelers, the risks to the fetus from exposure to cosmic radiation are negligible. For pregnant aircrew members and other frequent flyers, this exposure may be higher. Information is available from the FAA to estimate this exposure.

My summary of the specific risks from the longer paper:

  1. Environmental conditions

    The pressurized environment of the aircraft can lead to some changes in the mother's blood pressure and heart rate; there is currently no evidence this is likely to cause an issue with a developing fetus, but you can take preventative measures such as wearing support stockings, walking around periodically, and drinking sufficient water.

  2. Turbulence

    Turbulence can cause the expectant mother to fall and be injured (which could in theory do harm to the fetus), so when possible sit down with your seatbelt fastened.

  3. Cosmic radiation, etc.

    An occasional flight will not cause you to receive more ionizing radiation than the generally accepted safe level; however, many flights could put you at risk of surpassing that level. The specifics, and a link to determine her specific exposure:

Available information suggests that noise, vibration, and cosmic radiation present a negligible risk for the occasional pregnant air traveler (6, 7). Both the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements and the International Commission on Radiological Protection recommend a maximum annual radiation exposure limit of 1 millisievert (mSv) (100 rem) for members of the general public and 1 mSv over the course of a 40-week pregnancy (7). Even the longest available intercontinental flights will expose passengers to no more than 15% of this limit (7); therefore, it is unlikely that the occasional traveler will exceed current exposure limits during pregnancy. However, aircrew or frequent flyers may exceed these limits. The Federal Aviation Administration and the International Commission on Radiological Protection consider aircrew to be occupationally exposed to ionizing radiation and recommend that they be informed about radiation exposure and health risks (8, 9). A tool to estimate an individual exposure to cosmic radiation from a specific flight is available from the Federal Aviation Administration on its web site (http://jag.cami.jccbi.gov/cariprofile.asp).

So - no, your partner did not put the fetus at particular risk by flying while pregnant; however, if she is likely to fly many times during the pregnancy (such as, if she works in sales and flies on a weekly basis), she should talk to her obstetrician and ask them whether the particular flight frequency and duration is safe throughout the pregnancy.

  • Very nice, +1. Very reassuring. (Unlike my math...) – anongoodnurse Sep 22 '17 at 5:01
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Don't worry! You should be totally fine. It sounds like flying early in pregnancy does not have any negative side affects.

From the Mayo Clinic:

Generally, commercial air travel before week 36 of pregnancy is considered safe for women who have healthy pregnancies

If you wanted more links:

http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/927.aspx?CategoryID=54

http://www.webmd.com/baby/taking-to-the-skies-pregnant-and-safe#1

Also Congratulations!

  • I love all the links, but the second one is far from a reliable source. :) – anongoodnurse Sep 21 '17 at 16:17
  • I'm assuming you meant parent not nhs so I've removed it. Thanks. – Erica Grant Sep 21 '17 at 16:19

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