Woman Gives Birth on Southwest Flight

The baby boy was delivered with the help of a doctor aboard the airplane.

December 04, 2009, 3:05 PM

Dec. 4, 2009— -- A woman flying on a Southwest Airlines flight Friday entered a whole different type of a mile-high club: She gave birth to a baby boy at about 30,000 feet over the country.

Southwest Airlines flight 441 from Chicago's Midway Airport to Salt Lake City was about 100 miles north of Denver when the pilot asked if anyone onboard had medical training.

A doctor and two nurses on board helped deliver the baby at the back of the plane with the help of flight attendants and an in-flight medical radio service.

"We now have a new passenger," a flight attendant announced on the jet's public address system, according to KMGH.

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The doctor, John Saran of Illinois, was heading to Park City for a ski vacation. In an interview with ABC News, he said that the flight crew was "great." The group escorted the woman to the plane's rear galley for privacy.

"We thought we were going to have enough time before landing before the baby came," Saran said. "It went smoothly, the mother was great, it was an easy delivery, everything went in a normal manner."

"We used the shoe strings, actually the shoe strings from my shoes to tie the umbilical cord so this new baby," Saran added. A pair of children's scissors was eventually used to cut the cord.

The doctor said he heard the baby was due in January, maybe about a month early. He said the baby was about five pounds.

The plane made an emergency medical landing at Denver International Airport, where the plane was met by medical personnel. The mother and her baby were taken off the plane and taken to the Medical Center of Aurora, where a spokeswoman says they're doing fine.

"It sounded like everything went pretty regular -- nothing out of the ordinary," Denver Fire Division Chief Charles McMillan told ABC affiliate KMGH-TV in Denver.

The baby's father and other children in the family who were on the flight also got off the plane in Denver. The names of the family members were not immediately released.

The flight continued on to Salt Lake City without any further incident.

Southwest spokesman Beth Harbin told ABC News: "You know how these things go -- babies have their own timetable".

Harbin said a decision to fly during pregnancy is "between a mom and her doctor."

Birth on Airplanes Is Rare

It is far more likely that somebody will die on your flight than give birth -- 26 times as likely. A study of 10,189 medical emergencies aboard European flights between 2002 and 2007 by German researchers found only two births but 52 deaths.

Southwest does offer written guidance for pregnant passengers that "strongly recommends against air travel after the 38th week of pregnancy."

"While air travel does not usually cause problems during pregnancy unless delivery is expected within 14 days or less, in some cases, traveling by air has been known to cause complications or premature labor," the airline states on its Web site. "Female customers at any stage of pregnancy should consult with their physicians prior to air travel."

Southwest also says that depending on their physical condition, strength and agility, pregnant women may, in some cases, be asked not to sit in an emergency exit seat. Nothing in the policy specifically bans them from flying.

The Air Transport Association, the airlines' trade group, said it is an infrequent occurrence that somebody gives birth on a plane and said that airlines are as prepared as can be. Airlines have protocols in place for medical emergencies, including child birth. Airlines set their own policy as to how far advanced a woman can be in her pregnancy and when a doctor's express approval is required.

Most U.S. airlines place no restrictions on travel during the first eight months of pregnancy; some require a doctor's certificate stating the due date and that the woman is fit to travel. Of the association's members, four require a doctor's certificate within seven days of the due date; one requires it within 14 days and three require it within 30 days).

When a pregnant woman flies, the Air Transport Association said, she should keep her circulation moving by doing foot and ankle exercises in her seat and getting up to walk down the aisle when it is safe to do so. Keeping hydrated is also important.

The flight was almost completely full with 123 passengers out of a possible 137 onboard. There were also three flight attendants and the two pilots on the Boeing 737.

And for those wondering: in this type of situation, the baby is usually give a birth certificate in the state where the plane lands.

With reports from ABC News' Desiree Adib and Dan Childs.

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