Photo courtesy of Sergey Zolkin
It’s not uncommon in 2020 to have a job that has you hopping on planes on a regular basis, or even just occasionally. But what if you get pregnant? For how long can you fly? Are there restrictions? At what point do you have to say no? What are your rights when it comes to refusing to fly because you’re pregnant?
We’ve put together a guide to help you navigate this topic and ensure your safety and comfort throughout the process.
When you’re cleared for takeoff
Air travel is considered safe for most pregnant women up to 36 weeks, according to Mayo Clinic, but you should always consult your ob-gyn before hopping on a plane if you’re pregnant, no matter how far along you are.
If you’re experiencing specific conditions as a result of your pregnancy, your doctor may caution against your flying. Preeclampsia, premature rupture of membranes, and preterm labor are all risks when it comes to flying while pregnant. Flying, whether you’re pregnant or not, increases the risk for deep-vein thrombosis (DVT)—basically a blot clot in the legs—and you’re at further risk for this if you’re pregnant.
Airline restrictions for pregnant passengers
Every airline has its own policies and restrictions regarding pregnant passengers, which take into consideration factors like due date, flight length, and whether the pregnancy is single or multiple. Some may require you to present a medical certificate signed by your doctor, ordinarily required after 28 weeks of pregnancy.
How to tell your boss you can’t, won’t, or don’t feel comfortable flying due to your pregnancy
If you haven’t told them you’re pregnant yet
If you haven’t told your boss you’re pregnant, and you’re not ready to tell them yet, you might ask them if there’s anyone else who can take the trip on your behalf. Perhaps a coworker someone who reports to you has had an outstanding year and you want to give them the chance to step up and represent the team. You could also tell your boss that you have a family commitment that cannot be moved (it’s true, you can’t move that pregnancy) and cannot travel at this time.
If they’re unsympathetic to your request, you may need to talk about the fact that you’re expecting (how to do that here). You can ask your doctor for a medical note that indicates you’re not allowed to travel at this time, which carries legal weight. More on that later.
Keep in mind that your coworkers might start to wonder why you’re not flying (it’s none of their business if you don’t want it to be), but when and how you talk about your pregnancy is totally up to you.
If your boss already knows you’re pregnant
If they ask you to travel after 36 weeks, you can cite medical or even airline restrictions that prevent you from getting on a plane.
If you’re less than 36 weeks, you can ask your doctor for a note or talk to your boss about the physical stress that comes with flying while pregnant and ask that they understand. Could the trip be turned into a conference call instead? Could Esther take the trip instead? (She’s been doing a great job, after all.)
Know your rights
If your employer refuses to accommodate your request not to travel because of your pregnancy, they may be in violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
Under the PDA:
Any pregnancy-related conditions that prevent an employee from working must be treated in the same way that other short-term disabilities are treated.
Your job is not permitted to be altered in any way because of your pregnancy. That applies to firing you, modifying your job duties in any way, or requesting that you take a leave of absence.
You are also protected from retaliation under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which means that your employer cannot penalize you for opposing employment practices that allegedly discriminate based on pregnancy or for filing a discrimination charge.
Tips to stay comfortable and stay safe while flying during your pregnancy
Move around. When that fasten seatbelt sign is off, get up to stretch your legs to keep your blood flowing. This helps prevent DVT.
Buckle under the bump. This prevents any unnecessary pressure on your belly, and most pregnant women find this more comfortable.
Wear loose-fitting clothing that won’t constrict circulation. This will help you stay comfy and help prevent DVT too. (Here are some great places you can find comfortable maternity work clothes.)
If you’re already someone who experiences motion sickness on airplanes, then morning sickness isn’t going to make the trip any easier. Drink fluids to help fight nausea and dehydration caused by low humidity in the cabin. Also, bring light snacks.
Check your bags or get a rolling suitcase. Do yourself a favor and avoid lugging heavy suitcases through the airport.
Avoid day trips. Book an extra night at a hotel to prevent the added stress and exhaustion from taking two flights in a single day.
Book an aisle seat or one closer to the restroom. Also, spring for trip insurance just in case a health concern comes up last minute, especially if you’re self-employed and are picking up the bill yourself.
Avoid reading or working on the plane, which can increase nausea. Instead try listening to music or a podcast or catching a few winks on the trip.
Ask your doctor about anti-nausea medications, and always, always consult your health care provider before taking any medications. Always.
Read more: How to Dress Professionally While Traveling