The journey to Northern Ireland when heavily pregnant

So, the idea of relocating to Northern Ireland for the birth seems worth a bit of trouble. But what about getting there. There’s an expanse of water and airlines aren’t keen on flying pregnant women.

The journey there is the most unappealing part of it all. Unless you’re willing to go before the start of the 37th week, airlines won’t usually take you, which leaves taking a ferry as the only option. This means a long journey for most people, and there’s a very unlikely scenario in which contractions begin en route. A well thought through journey plan is needed to minimise the length of time that the journey lasts for and that includes contingencies.

Cars: Your new, little person will need a lot of stuff. Also, it’d nice to have a pile of personal belongings since you’ll be away for a few weeks. Visitors might be encouraged by an offer to pick them up from the airport. Having a car with you would be useful.

Ferries: There are three main car ferry options.

  • from Cairnryan port in Scotland to Belfast with Stenaline. It takes 2 hours 15 minutes (timetable here). P&O also has ferries to Larne, near Belfast from Cairnryan, which take 2 hours.
  • from Holyhead to Dublin, which takes 3 hours 15 minutes (timetable here). It’s a little over an hour by car from Dublin to the Irish border and about 2 hours to Belfast. This doesn’t factor in a hard border with passport controls and queues.
  • from Fishguard to Rosslare, which takes 3 hours 15 minutes (timetable here). It’s about 2 1/2 by car from Rosslare to the Northern Irish border and about 31/2 hours by car from Rosslare to Belfast. Again, this doesn’t factor in a hard border with passport controls and queues.

You have to be at whichever ferry port an hour in advance of departure. As far as we are aware neither Stenaline nor P&O Ferries has a policy preventing pregnant people using these routes. Bear in mind that the Irish Sea can be rough.

A comparison table at the bottom of this page gives ideas of the best routes. For most people in the UK, going from Cairnryan in Scotland to Belfast makes most sense. From Holyhead to Dublin may make sense for some. From Fishguard will only make sense for people living locally. There’s also a ferry from Liverpool to Belfast, but it takes over 8 hours, which is too long.

This post is about getting to Northern Ireland, not getting back. However, if the return journey involves going through the Republic of Ireland, which two of these routes would do if returning the same way, the baby will need a passport. An online application has to be followed up with an interview at Belfast HM Passport Office and (we assume) the baby has to attend. While it is possible to obtain a passport quickly using a fast-track procedure, this may be one hassle to be done without. The route from Belfast to Cairnryan is the only one that can be taken on the return journey without the passport.

Avoiding Problems / Being Sensible

Firstly, the journey should be done a sensible length of time before the due date, so at least 10 days before and preferably longer. The journey is probably going to take between 5 and 12 hours, depending on where in mainland Britain you start from. We reckon that the risk of contractions beginning on the way is under about 2.2% if the journey is done at least 10 days in advance of the due date and takes 12 hours. Go at least three weeks before the due date and the risk falls to under 0.45% we reckon 1 . Given that the first signs that a baby is coming usually occur many hours or even a day or more in advance of full on labour, even if contractions start the likelihood of things getting messy at an inconvenient location is close to zero.

So, what would the plan be if contractions actually start? Firstly, to keep calm, obviously. If you’re still in mainland Britain and less than 2-3 hours (or maybe more) from your usual hospital, it’s time to turn round and head there. Birth in Northern Ireland wasn’t meant to be. If far from your usual hospital and you haven’t boarded the ferry yet, well… this is really the worst case scenario. You need a plan as to where to go. Our plan was to go to Victoria hospital in Blackpool, which is near-ish to the M6, if much north of Birmingham, with a couple of other candidate hospitals depending on where we were and how frequent the contractions were.

Planes: BA allows pregnant women to fly until the end of the 36th week. The deadline is earlier if pregnant with twins. BA’s policy is that you should carry a letter or statement from your Doctor or Midwife confirming: (a) if the pregnancy is single or multiple, (b) the expected due date, and (c) that there are no complications with the pregnancy. The letter should be dated as close to your travel date as possible2.

Easyjet and Aerlingus3 don’t allow travel after the end of the 35th week. Flybe doesn’t allow it after the end of the 33rd week (not cool Flybe). Like BA, these airlines typically require doctors letters if the pregnancy appears advanced.

The reason airlines resist pregnant women on flights is because they don’t want women going into labour in the air. Flying short-haul should not pose risk of harm to the mother or the baby, provided the pregnancy is straightforward4. Instead of taking a ferry, one option is to fly out while an airline will still take you.

If you decide to fly, it will still be helpful for a partner to drive over, though it is possible to avoid taking a car with very careful planning.

Our final thoughts

There’s no doubt that the journey out is a pain. If you or your partner needs convincing, see our post on why it’s worth making the journey.

Addendum: Journey times

Total journey times to Belfast are indicated from three example starting points in the following table. These starting points are: Meridan (traditionally the centre of mainland Britain), London Kings Cross, and Manchester.

Journey start and end pointsFerry crossingTime in car on mainland British sideFerry journey time Waiting time for ferry Estimated time in car on island of Ireland to BelfastTotal
Meriden to BelfastCairnryan to Belfast5¾ hrs 2¼ hrs1 hr¼ hr9¼ hrs
Meriden to BelfastHolyhead to Dublin3½ hrs 3¼ hrs1 hr2hrs (excl. possible hard border crossing time)9¾ hrs
Meriden to BelfastFishguard to Rosslare4¼ hrs3¼ hrs1 hr3½ hrs (excl. possible hard border crossing time)12 hrs
Manchester to BelfastCairnryan to Belfast4 hrs2¼ hrs1 hr¼ hr7½ hrs
Manchester to BelfastHolyhead to Dublin2¼ hrs3¼ hrs1 hr2hrs (excl. possible hard border crossing time)6½ hrs
Manchester to BelfastFishguard to Rosslare4½ hrs3¼ hrs1 hr3½ hrs (excl. possible hard border crossing time)12 hrs
London Kings Cross to BelfastCairnryan to Belfast7¼ hrs2¼ hrs1 hr¼ hr10¾ hrs
London Kings Cross to BelfastHolyhead to Dublin5 hrs3¼ hrs1 hr2hrs (excl. possible hard border crossing time)11¼ hrs
London Kings Cross to BelfastFishguard to Rosslare5hrs3¼ hrs1 hr3½ hrs (excl. possible hard border crossing time)12¾ hrs

Footnotes

  1. Source is https://datayze.com/labor-probability-calculator.php and assumes a journey time of 12 hours. Variations in due date due to age, race, first child or subsequent, and other factors are not taken into consideration.
  2. https://www.britishairways.com/en-gb/information/travel-assistance/medical-conditions-and-pregnancy
  3. https://www.kidsonaplane.com/aer-lingus-flying-with-kids-policy/#Mother
  4. Source: https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/pregnancy/is-it-safe-to-fly-while-pregnant/