Special delivery at 35,000ft

Most airlines won't let you fly in the last month of pregnancy without a doctor's certificate. But, with planning, you can still wangle a break before the baby arrives

When I planned a trip to deepest Norway to stay with my in-laws, in a mountain chalet with no electricity or running water, I hadn't planned on being pregnant. To be precise, 38 weeks pregnant - just two weeks away from my due date at 40 weeks.

When I planned a trip to deepest Norway to stay with my in-laws, in a mountain chalet with no electricity or running water, I hadn't planned on being pregnant. To be precise, 38 weeks pregnant - just two weeks away from my due date at 40 weeks.

The chance of the baby coming early was so small I didn't think it would pose a problem. But when I made arrangements for the trip I quickly found out that few airlines shared my laid-back attitude to premature labour. I initially tried to book myself on to a British Airways Heathrow to Oslo flight. Half way through the conversation with flight reservations I casually asked if there were any restrictions on women flying when pregnant. "How pregnant?" was the quick response. When I said I intended to fly a fortnight before the baby was expected, I was firmly told BA does not allow women to fly in the last month of pregnancy - after 36 weeks.

The airline says it's done "entirely in the interests of the mum and baby, 35,000ft is not the best place to go into labour, although the crew are trained in emergency childbirth and have a delivery kit on board."

BA takes no chances - it wants to know about your "condition" 12 weeks before your baby's due. A doctor's certificate has to be presented at check-in confirming details like due date, whether it's a multiple pregnancy or not, that there are no complications, and that the mother is "fit and healthy to travel". The reason for such precautions, according to consultant obstetrician, John Malvern, from Queen Charlotte's Hospital in west London, is that the airlines are terrified pregnant women will go into premature labour. "Although it's a very small risk, for the airlines it's one not worth taking because the consequences are so enormous".

Diverting a plane typically costs the airline £20,000, and causes much inconvenience to everyone else on board. So most airlines restrict women intending to fly very late on in their pregnancies. Cathay Pacific, KLM, Lufthansa, Qantas, Swissair and Ryanair all give the same cut-off point as BA - 36 weeks. South African Airways is tougher at 35 weeks, as are Virgin Atlantic and JMC at 34 weeks. Air France, American Airlines, Air New Zealand, Continental, Delta, United and SAS allow up until 37-39 weeks. However, with all of them you must be clutching that doctor's certificate saying everything is OK - any hint of a complication with the pregnancy and it's no go.

So I decided to see if there were similar restrictions travelling by car and ferry. In the UK a pregnant woman can drive right up until her due date, unless her doctor says otherwise. And it turned out, there was little chance of the ferry companies stopping me boarding for a 24-hour voyage. Fjord Line will let you travel in your last month of pregnancy if you have proof of the all-clear from your doctor, although it is at the captain's discretion and he could say no. The other ferry company operating between the UK and Norway, DFDS, has absolutely no restrictions on pregnant women travelling. But it says "as there is no doctor on board, if you went into labour, we would have to get a helicopter out to airlift you off. So we strongly advise you to take out insurance cover in case this happens".

Sound advice, but sadly unrealistic - it's very hard to find cover for prenatal emergencies or delivery for women travelling late in their pregnancies. As the Association of British Insurers explains "insurance cover is for the unforeseen, not the inevitable". So in anticipation of the inevitable, insurance companies impose an earlier cut off point than the airlines - depending who you use, it ranges from eight to 12 weeks before the expected date of delivery. Famously pregnant women like Madonna and Catherine Zeta-Jones may be able to buy their way out of trouble, but for the rest of us the risk of heavy medical bills is too high.

Another gamble is the quality of medical care at your destination. While treatment in Britain varies from one area to another, overseas the differences in care are far more pronounced - which is why Mr Malvern from Queen Charlotte's hospital recommends 32 weeks as the cut-off point. "It's worth bearing in mind that premature babies from 28 weeks onwards can survive in incubators." In countries where medical resources are limited, incubators are few and far between. Mr Malvern also points out that "if your waters break and contractions start - even if no birth appears to be imminent - you will be kept in whichever country you have ended up in, as nobody is going to fly you back with ruptured membranes." So that fortnight in the Maldives, planned as a bit of a break before the baby arrives, could potentially end up being an expensive three-month stay.

Of course when it comes to the amount of risk mother and baby are under, destination is all. A lot of doctors advise against travelling to malarious areas as malaria is potentially a much more serious illness in pregnant women. It may cause anaemia and miscarriage. Also, when choosing your destination it's worth bearing in mind that certain "live" vaccinations like Yellow Fever are not given to pregnant women, as the baby can become infected.

The overwhelming advice everyone will give you is that if you are pregnant and planning to travel, check with your doctor first.

But being pregnant does not mean you have to be confined to the UK for nine months. Lots of women travel when they're pregnant - and enjoy it. The best time is during the second trimester, weeks 14 to 28. At this stage the risk of miscarriage is greatly reduced and there's little possibility of early labour. This is the period when women allegedly "bloom", so any journey should be no different from usual. This is the in-between phase - you're over the first few weeks of nausea, but your size has yet to make you even less tolerant of the crush on charter flights than would normally be the case.

Siobhan Mulholland decided not to visit Norway. Her daughter, Kristin, was born, weighing 7lb 8 oz, on the due date

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