Does being a flight attendant affect fertility? Read this and make your own mind up
Can flying affect conception?
When Jo Dalziel started her dream job as cabin crew aged 22, having babies was the last thing on her mind. When she was ready to start a family in her early 30’s, she realised the extent of the danger and damage to fertility that all airline staff are potentially exposed to.
No airline has scientifically investigated the links between working as flight crew and infertility. However, the World Health Organisation has warned of several dangers to fertility that flight crew regularly experience.
This is Jo’s story.
Jo Dalziel’s fertility flight crew story
I worked as flight crew throughout my 20’s. As the years passed I regularly listened to sad stories of flight crew who had endured long, painful fertility journeys. Although this did worry me slightly, I convinced myself that I would be fine, and I had no plans of giving up my ‘unhealthy’ job. On occasion, I could have been found to be one of the last ones in the bar which wasn’t the healthiest way of living but lots of fun. I was just a normal young woman with a fun job.
Although I believe that the stories I heard about cabin crew struggling to get pregnant influenced me and made me believe that I too would struggle, I was also able to put it out of my mind to a certain extent. I wasn’t ready to start a family and I chose not to think about it. After all, there was no evidence one way or the other – only the personal stories of people I worked with and knew.
The effects of regular flights on fertility
Age 30 I met my husband who is also aircrew. After two years we started to think about having a family, and I was worried that it wasn’t going to be easy to start a family. We were both suffering the stresses of flying & not always making the healthiest choices when we were away. We could change some of these habits such as diet, but there are other, associated health hazards that airline crew cannot avoid.
Does cosmic radiation affect fertility?
It’s important to point out here that airlines have not done specific research on infertility in flight crew, possibly because of the legal implications it would have for them. However, as soon as you are pregnant you must stop flying immediately and perform ground duties only, because of the increased risk of miscarriage and birth defects in early pregnancy. This is due to cosmic radiation, the physical demands of heavy lifting and being on your feet for long periods.
“The Federal Aviation Administration and the International Commission on Radiological Protection consider aircrew to be occupationally exposed to ionizing radiation and recommend that they be informed about radiation exposure and health risks.” (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists)
Research has been carried out by The World Health Organisation (W.H.O.) who have found that cosmic ionising radiation contributes to cancer in humans. It also causes reproductive problems. Small amounts of cosmic radiation do reach the Earth, but at flight altitudes, you’re exposed to much higher levels. No one really knows what the safe levels are.
It is thought that aircrew sometimes exceed the recommended maximum cosmic radiation levels during a flight. It’s not understood how often this happens. This means that flight crew are exposed to an unknown level of the type of radiation, that has been shown by the WHO to cause fertility issues.
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More fertility risks for flight crew
Another significant factor in fertility struggles is circadian rhythm disruption.
There has been research into how daylight and sleep affect processes like sperm production and egg maturation. The lifestyle of flight crew isn’t based around regular cycles of day and night.
Healthy fertility also requires sleep and adequate nutrition. Little or no sleep on a regular basis, nights out of bed and eating unhealthy meals at the wrong times isn’t ideal. Extremely early starts, crazy long days, crossing time zones and suffering from jet lag doesn’t only make you feel dreadful, it impacts the production of the hormones melatonin and cortisol. This can disrupt the menstrual cycle. Sleep disturbance can also alter levels of follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH), luteinising hormones (LH) and prolactin in women. Sleep disruption in men also reduces testosterone levels and sperm count and increases levels of anti-sperm antibodies.
Whilst in the air levels of oxygen are also lower than we breathe on the ground. In the recirculated air the quality and humidity is reduced. You have probably noticed very dry skin and lips whilst being on an aircraft and the need to drink lots of water. Being well hydrated is essential for lubricating all of our tissues and organs and to deliver hormones throughout the body to enhance follicles and sperm. Low levels of oxygen and water also put extra pressure on the immune system and reduce overall health.
Answers to unexplained infertility in flight crew
My GP advised me to get another job if I wanted to have a baby. I chose to change my lifestyle as far as possible and took a part-time contract in an attempt to improve my health. I convinced my husband to cut out alcohol and caffeine and to generally improve his health to give us the best chance of conceiving. We tried to conceive for 4 years, before finally finding success through ICSI treatment. We then went on to conceive naturally.
We consider ourselves so fortunate to have a family after an unexplained infertility diagnosis. I go back to all those stories and realise that fertility issues are so prevalent amongst aircrew that it warrants specific investigation and more awareness.
I have now left aviation to pursue my next dream which is supporting people on difficult fertility journeys with the Freedom Fertility Formula and also through pregnancy and birth.