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Driving While Pregnant: Is it Really Safe?

Katlyn Joy |21, May 2014


While pregnant women are no longer treated like porcelain dolls because they are expecting, there are some things that require added safety measures or perhaps must be abstained from altogether.

Generally, women shouldn't be concerned with auto travel, whether driver or passenger. There may be some situations, however, where extra caution may be warranted. For instance, if you are in danger of premature labor, it probably isn't the time to wander far from home or hospital. In fact, the March of Dimes recommends pregnant women in any circumstance limit car travel to 6 hours a day, maximum.

Seatbelts and Pregnancy

Many women worry about whether it's best to use or skip the seatbelt when pregnant, especially when the belly is bulging. The answer: wear it! Seatbelts save lives, and pregnant women and their unborn children are no exception.
To safely wear a seatbelt, remember the following:

  • Use both the lap and the shoulder belt.
  • Make certain the belt is snugly fitting against you.
  • Do not tuck the shoulder belt under your arm.
  • Adjust the belt to fit between your breasts and to the side of your belly.
  • The lap belt should lie correctly, underneath your abdomen and across your hips and pelvis.

Other Tips

When driving, do not sit too closely to the steering wheel. Adjust your seat as far back as possible where you can still drive and reach the pedals properly. If you are rather short, you may be able to find a pedal extender to keep yourself a safe distance from the dash. Check at your auto dealership.

Never turn off your airbag. The odds of the airbag harming you or your child are considerably lower than the odds of being injured in a car accident.

The Risks of Car Accidents to Pregnant Women

According to Fit Pregnancy, 800 fetuses die each year in the US when their mothers are involved in car crashes. That's reportedly 8 times as many children under 4 who are killed in auto wrecks each year.

The March of Dimes reports the following risks from car accidents to expectant mothers:

Placental abruption.

This is primarily caused from a woman's abdomen striking the steering wheel, causing the placenta to shear away from the wall of the uterus. This cuts off nutrition, and more importantly, oxygen, from the baby.

Premature labor.

Car accidents may cause a woman to go into labor, and if it occurs before her 37th week of pregnancy, it's considered a premature birth.

Premature rupture of membranes.

Also called, PROM, this is when the amniotic sac of water surrounding the baby ruptures or breaks prior to labor. The risk of infection is high in this case, and many times, labor must take place within a set number of hours.

Miscarriage or stillbirth.

The death of the baby before the 20th week of pregnancy is considered a miscarriage, while after the 20 week mark is considered a stillbirth.

Are Pregnant Women Risky Drivers?

According to a study just published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the risk of a pregnant woman increases 40 percent during her second trimester. This is roughly the same risk as a person who suffers from sleep apnea.

Lead author of the study, Donald Redelmeier, states, "We aren't recommending pregnant woman delegate their driving to their husbands. Young adult men are even more dangerous behind the wheel. They have even higher crash rates [than pregnant women]."

Redelmeier is also an ER doctor and goes on to say just being careful; obeying stop signs, not speeding and reducing distractions, is the recommendation. While it's simple advice he says, "That seems like such incredibly banal advice to give. I realize that. But every one of our crashes in the study could have been avoided by a small change in driver behaviors."

Interestingly, the percentage rate of women who have had crashes dropped back down in the third trimester. After childbirth, the rate reduces even further to that of before pregnancy.

To conduct the study, Redelmeier looked at data from 500,000 mothers who live in Ontario, Canada. While the numbers were crunched, the reason behind the increase in accidents wasn't studied. Redelmeier however has a theory.

"We've known for a long time that pregnancy causes fatigue, insomnia, nausea and stress," he says. "What we wondered was how all those factors might contribute to driver error and the possibility of a life-threatening motor vehicles crash ... I was surprised by the magnitude of the effect. ...It's a substantial risk."

Blame it on the hormones — again.

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