Yesterday it was reported that a woman gave birth to a baby on board an Alitalia flight from Milan to Paris. According to reports, the plane “landed in time for a medical team to board the flight and help deliver the baby boy…all in front of other cheering passengers on the plane.”
In-flight labors actually happen more often than you’d think and can be very dangerous to both the mother and the baby. Here are our top five reasons to re-consider traveling while pregnant, especially during the third trimester.
1. When labor will begin and how quickly you are going to deliver is very unpredictable. On rare occasions, women can have very rapid labor and deliveries which we call precipitous deliveries. The problem with obstetrics is that medically we can not predict when or how quickly a woman will deliver by any scientific means. We may see a patient in the office in the morning who is completely closed and six hours later she is in full blown labor. If you are going to travel later in the third trimester you take the risk that you could go into labor either on the flight or at your vacation destination.
2. A pregnant woman should not travel to a third world country after 24 weeks in case she has an unexpected preterm delivery. The reason is that once a baby has reached 24 weeks, it has a good chance of survival if it is born in a hospital with a high level neonatal intensive care unit. If you deliver in a country without these resources your baby could die.
3. Prolonged sitting in an airplane increases the risk of deep vein thrombosis in the lower extremities. Because of increased levels of estrogen in a woman when she is pregnant she is at greater risk for deep vein thrombosis during air travel. In the third trimester when the enlarged uterus compresses the venous return the risk for clotting could be potentially increased. To help alleviate these risks getting up and ambulating during a flight every few hours is recommended.
4. Women naturally swell in the third trimester. Prolonged sitting increases lower extremity swelling and can cause discomfort.
5. Women who are pregnant have lower immunity to infection than women who are not pregnant. Because bacteria and viruses are easily spread during air travel, traveling during the third trimester increases your risk of any of these airborn illnesses.
The overall advice we give our patients is simple: travel after 32 weeks only if it is absolutely necessary. Pregnancy is not a good time to take unecessary risks.