Now well into her third trimester of pregnancy, Meghan Markle made headlines flying into New York City this past weekend for her baby shower. Reportedly totaling $200,000, the festivities brought guests like Amal Clooney, Serena Williams, and other celebs to the Mark hotel on Manhattan's Upper East Side. (You can read all about it here!) While the duchess's itinerary is often in the news, this trip made headlines for a reason other than her shower's star-studded guest list, as it's sparking conversation over the issue of flying while pregnant.
Markle obviously had to take a (no doubt luxurious) transatlantic flight to attend her fabulous fête. But was it safe?
The consensus seems to be that if all is going well with your health and your pregnancy and you're not past 34 weeks, it's perfectly fine to fly while pregnant. But to be sure, Brides spoke to Dr. Meera Garcia, division chief of General Ob/Gyn at New York-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital and assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at CUIMC to learn more. She explains that a physician's advice regarding flying while pregnant can vary, as it's not an exact science and there's no hard and fast rule, but shared what she tells her own patients.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Meera Garcia is the regional director of women’s health services and division chief of general OB/GYN at NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Hudson Valley. She is an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.
The First Trimester
In the first trimester of a noncomplicated pregnancy, Garcia says women can feel free to travel anywhere they want as long as they consult the CDC website to check for Zika advisories. "Make sure you don't go anywhere with Zika present," she says, as it can have, “long-lasting implications for a baby."
The Second Trimester
Generally, Garcia suggests staying away from international travel after 24 weeks. But if all is going well, why? The average gestational period for a full-term baby is 37 to 41 weeks, after all.
Well, after 24 weeks, a baby is considered viable, meaning it could survive even that early a birth with proper medical intervention. "I would hate for someone to go somewhere and have the baby there due to preterm labor. Having a baby on foreign soil that early can leave you stuck in a foreign country while the baby is in the NICU," or perhaps worse, "somewhere with not as good hospitals." Thus, Garcia advises her patients to avoid traveling out of the country.
After 34 Weeks
At this point, Garcia tells her patients, "I don't want them traveling at all," as she explains if a baby is born at 34 weeks you don't want to end up outside of your own district for the duration of a baby's stay in the NICU or special care nursery."
Moms of Multiples
For women carrying more than one baby, there is a higher risk of preterm labor. "Twins tend to mature a little earlier and labor earlier, so we recommend women carrying multiple pregnancies don't travel after about 28 to 30 weeks."
Pregnant Traveling Tips
Even if you've been given the all clear to fly, it's important to be diligent. Typically in the third trimester, swelling can become an issue. "On top of that," Garcia explains, "when you travel, you're sitting in a seat and your legs are dangling, so there's even more swelling. And we worry about blood clots in pregnancy" (specifically during the third trimester and first six weeks postpartum.)
So when women travel in their third trimester, Garcia recommends, "when the plane gets to cruising, walk around every hour for five to 10 minutes to stretch your legs and make sure you're not sitting in one position for a long time." Be sure to speak to your doctor first, but she also recommends taking a tablet of of baby aspirin every day—especially when traveling—to help prevent blood clots.
Garcia warns women to seek medical attention right away after flying if your contractions become more frequent or painful, if you have any vaginal bleeding, or if you experience severe nausea or vomiting that you weren't dealing with prior to the flight. Additionally, "if you have asymmetric pain in legs, asymmetric swelling, one leg appears redder than the other, or you have a feeling of a cord structure in the back of your leg," Garcia explains, "these are all signs of blood clots," and should be investigated immediately, as should any severe shortness of breath or heart palpitations.
You Shouldn't Travel If..
There are some conditions in which a woman should avoid all air travel, regardless of where they are in their pregnancy. "If you are at risk for preterm labor; if you have a cerclage (a stitch placed on the cervix to treat cervical incompetence), high blood pressure issues that are difficult to control, or uncontrolled diabetes; if you're at a high risk for blood clots or take blood thinners—you are not recommended to travel." Additionally, if you have a high-risk pregnancy or a thinned out C-section scar, or if you have been diagnosed with placenta previa (a condition in which the placenta partially or completely covers the cervix), it is also advised that you remain on the ground.
What the Airlines Say
In addition to physician approval, a pregnant woman will need to look into the airlines regulations too. For example, United will allow any woman to travel prior to 36 weeks of pregnancy without any medical documentation. After 36 weeks, though, and you'll need, "the original and two copies of an obstetrician’s certificate, which must be dated within three days (72 hours) prior to flight departure. To best assure the pregnant traveler’s safety, it is preferable to have a certificate dated within one day of flight departure."
In the certificate, your doctor must certify that you've been examined and are physically fit to fly, and the estimated due date needs to be after the date of your last intended flight. Most large airlines have similar policies, but it's still important to check with your specific carrier.