Generally, your baby is well protected during pregnancy. While traveling by car is inherently risky, it’s even more so during pregnancy. So how do you ensure safe driving during pregnancy?
The University of Michigan estimates an average of 170,000 pregnant women experience a car crash every year. These crashes are the leading cause of death and serious injury to mom and baby during pregnancy.
A recent study published in the European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology says the risk of fetus death from a traffic crash is five times the risk compared to the first 9 months of a baby’s life. What makes this even more relevant is this number is based only on the 227 pregnant mothers who died (in which the unborn baby also died) compared to the 60 newborns who died in traffic crashes in 2012.
“This ratio likely underestimates the disparity because the risk of crashing is increased during pregnancy, and we have ignored the many cases in which the mother survives but the fetus does not ,” says the study’s authors, Evans and Redelmeier.
Based on many studies over the last 16 years, the average estimated number of pregnancies lost due to a motor vehicle crash is 3,000 a year. Most studies only take into account pregnancies that are beyond the 20-week gestation mark when it’s required to record fetal deaths.
How can a mom-to-be keep herself and her baby safe on the road?
- Be a passenger. First and foremost, if possible, don’t drive. This is especially true as your pregnancy progresses and your belly grows, narrowing the distance between it and the steering wheel. Better yet, be a passenger in the center rear seat with a lap-shoulder belt, it’s the safest place in the car during a crash.
- Move your seat back away from the steering wheel. When you do have to be the driver, move your seat back as far as possible while still being a comfortable reach. Optimum distance is at least 10 inches away from the steering wheel. This may be difficult for some women to achieve.
- Tilt the steering wheel. Make sure the steering wheel is tilted toward your breastbone rather than toward your abdomen. If the airbag deploys, it won’t go directly into your pregnant belly.
- Buckle up correctly. Wear a lap-shoulder belt properly positioned as recommended by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). They recommend pregnant women wear their seat belt with the shoulder portion positioned mid-chest/mid-shoulder and the lap portion under the belly, as low as possible on the hips. Keep the seat belt snug. For optimum protection with the seat belt, you can use a crash-tested pregnancy seat belt positioner called the Tummy Shield which safely redirects the lap portion of the seat belt into a leg harness (much like a race car driver).
- Avoid leaning forward. Sit back against the seat out of the airbag deployment zone.
If you are in a crash
If you’re in a crash, call your doctor right away. No matter how minor the crash may have seemed or you escaping unscathed, there is potential for injury to the baby. Your doctor will probably recommend you go in for a visit and have the baby’s heartbeat checked. Perhaps the doctor will perform an ultrasound also.
According to the Center for Disease Control, pregnant women in crashes without documented injuries are at greater risk of preterm labor. It’s possible, for example, to have placental abruption — when the placenta partially or completely separates from your uterus before the baby is born — without being aware of it. Placental abruption is the most common type of injury from a car crash during pregnancy and it could cause you to have your baby prematurely.