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• Air travel 'poses no risk to pregnant women and unborn babies' as long as they fly before the 37th week

• Most serious risk for women at 35,000ft is premature labour, say experts

• Expectant mothers shouldn't fear full-body security scanners, they advise

• Also shouldn't worry about DVT on longer flights if taking precautions

Air travel poses ‘no significant risk’ for pregnant women and their unborn babies – even up to three weeks before the birth, doctors say.

Healthy mothers-to-be having pregnancies without complications should be able to fly until the 37th week, their latest advice reveals.

The most serious risk for women at 35,000ft is premature labour, say experts from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

Expectant mothers need not fear medical risks posed by full-body security scanners or a fall in oxygen pressure during flights, and have no reason to worry about travel sickness and deep vein thrombosis on longer flights if they take precautions.

Those who are at risk of early labour because of factors such as a multiple birth should not fly from 32 weeks, says the college.

The new advice is similar to existing recommendations from the International Air Travel Association and NHS Choices. However, many airlines still bar women from boarding if they are more than 36 weeks into a pregnancy.

Some carriers request a doctor’s letter at 28 weeks to confirm the expected date of delivery and lack of complications.

The latest advice said pregnant women should pay attention to the risk of DVT, which occurs in cramped conditions or during periods of long immobility.

Doctors say it is a ‘concern of most pregnant women’ and can be combated with graduated elastic compression stockings.

Body scanners, which use ionising radiation for security checks, also pose no additional hazard to pregnant women because of the low doses involved.

However, obstetricians need to watch for medical conditions that may complicate the pregnancy and give rise to problems during air travel, such as severe anaemia, recent haemorrhage, serious cardiac or respiratory disease and recent bone fractures.

Professor Ian Greer, of the University of Liverpool, who wrote the scientific paper producing the new advice, said: ‘For uncomplicated pregnancies there is no reason to give advice against commercial air travel, and specifically there is no issue with travel in early pregnancy as the main consideration is risk of labour.

‘However if the woman has a history of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy it would be sensible to suggest ultrasound prior to travel to confirm the location and viability of the pregnancy.’

Amber Howard, of travel insurance website, said many women can be left at the boarding gate if airlines suspect they exceed the company’s limit on how close they are to giving birth.

‘They can also deny boarding under health and safety rules if they feel that a pregnant woman may not be mobile enough to leave the aircraft in an emergency,’ she said.

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Next edition Winter 2018
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