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Flying while pregnant hinges on due date

Who wants to deliver a baby on an airplane?

Answer: No one. Not the mother-to-be and not the flight attendants, pilots or passengers.

That's why most airlines have fairly strict requirements for women who travel near the end of their pregnancies. Even so, that doesn't always prevent unexpected arrivals, like the one that happened over the Thanksgiving holiday rush at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

A woman just stepping off an incoming flight gave birth to a healthy baby boy in a restroom in the airport's Concourse D.

"Air travel for pregnant women is considered extremely safe, but we do restrict travel after 36 weeks," said Dr. Laura Erdman, an obstetrician at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. "At that point, the chances of labor are so much higher and it's too much to risk."

For most pregnant women, the second trimester is the most comfortable time to fly, said Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, the editor-in-chief of WeJustGotBack.com and a specialist in family travel.

"By the 14th week, any morning sickness has usually subsided and the risk of miscarriage has decreased," said Kelleher. "Also, during the next few months your belly isn't too uncomfortably large."

Most airlines allow women further along in their pregnancies to travel through their eighth month. During the ninth month, airlines may recommend or require a doctor's permission for expecting passengers to travel, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

Erdman said pregnant women who have medical issues should probably seek travel alternatives. For example, women who are at risk of premature labor or are having undiagnosed bleeding should absolutely not fly, she said.

Southwest Airlines, BWI's largest carrier, recommends that women do not fly after they enter their 38th week of pregnancy, said Brandy King, a spokeswoman for the airline. Southwest typically does not require a doctor's note, but it does suggest that expecting mothers consult their doctors before boarding a flight.

"Each case is different," King said. "At Southwest, the ability to travel on an airplane while pregnant all depends on the condition of the passenger."

Meanwhile, Continental Airlines and US Airways require travelers who expect to deliver within seven days to present a doctor's certificate dated within 72 hours of departure that shows a physician deems the passenger fit for air travel.

United Airlines policy says that fliers who are in their ninth month of pregnancy must have a doctor's note that states the passenger is physically fit for air travel and that lists flight dates and destinations and the baby's due date.

After being approved for travel, pregnant women must still consider convenience and comfort when traveling on an airplane. Most airlines have narrow aisles and small bathrooms, which can make it more difficult to walk and more uncomfortable to use the bathroom.

The American Pregnancy Association recommends that pregnant fliers choose an aisle seat, which allows for easier access to the bathroom or a chance to stretch your legs. Passengers will also want to wear seat belts at all times to avoid excessive shaking from turbulence.

Kelleher added that pregnant women should make sure to drink plenty of water during the flight, as aircraft cabins tend to be dry and dehydrating.

"It's a good idea to get up from time to time and walk around the cabin to promote circulation," she said. "If the 'fasten seat belt' sign is on, at least rotate your ankles and flex and stretch your calves from time to time."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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