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The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has published a scientific paper on flying during pregancy and concludes that there is no significant risk associated with air travel during pregnancy. Concerns of labour being triggered by air travel appear to be unfounded, as is fear of harm caused by radiation emitted from security scanners. Radiation levels in security equipment are so low as not to pose a risk.
During high altitude flight, the body undergoes physiological change and the levels of oxygen on aircraft are lower than when on the ground. Neither of these have an impact on a baby's development during pregnancy.
There is an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) to all air passengers but that risk remains the same for pregnant women. Pregnant women may also feel more uncomfortable than usual in the cramped conditions of a flight but that poses no health risk to their baby.
Although flying won't trigger an early labour, there is always a chance that women flying close to their due date may naturally fall into labour. That, and the higher chance of other obstetric emergencies occurring in the weeks preceding birth, lead the author of the research to suggest that the general policy of airlines not to carry passengers who are pregnant from 37 weeks gestation is sensible. Furthermore, women with increased risk of preterm labour, perhaps because of multiple births or other complications, should avoid air travel from 32 weeks onwards.
The research was carried out by Professor Ian Greer of the University of Liverpool and is published as an RCOG Scientific Impact Paper. Visit RCOG's website to read more about this study.