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Safe Driving During Pregnancy: Is It Just a Matter of Wearing a Seatbelt?
Seatbelts During Pregnancy
Article by Amie Durocher
Pregnancy is a life changing event that is full of emotion. It is a time of preparation, a time for
learning what you as a mom-to-be needs to know about having a healthy and safe pregnancy
so you can have a healthy baby. All the information can be overwhelming and it seems
everyone you encounter has “helpful advice” to share.
During my third pregnancy I was an emotional wreck. I had gone through three miscarriages so
was doing everything “by the book” and still worried everyday something would happen. I rented
a heart rate doppler when I was far enough along in my pregnancy that I could hear the
heartbeat with one. And I checked it. Often.
But during all six pregnancies (3 full-term), not once did any of the doctors or midwives bring up the safety concerns of driving during pregnancy. This should be surprising considering the
statistics and high potential of negative outcomes to the pregnancy should mom-to-be
experience a car crash. However, reports suggest only 27% of pregnant women discuss the
topic with their doctor.
And the sad fact is, the few doctors who may discuss it typically recite what the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) advises. That is, wear the seat belt “positioned
low on the abdomen, below the fetus, with the shoulder belt worn normally.”
The thing is many women intuitively have a concern about driving during pregnancy as they
buckle up as an estimated 3,000 pregnancies are lost every year because of car crashes
(an average of estimates from all the studies we researched).
Some pregnant women question the safety of the airbag. Some question the safety of the seat
belt crossing their abdomen. Some women simply find it uncomfortable to wear a seat belt
during pregnancy, even early on, and consider not wearing it.
While studies show that wearing a seat belt is three times safer than not wearing one, pregnant
women are right to have concerns. Even NHTSA warns the fetus can be injured “from crash
forces concentrated in the area where the seatbelt crosses the mother’s abdomen.”
The seat belt is the first line of defense during a crash. It is meant to cinch down and hold the
person in the vehicle seat by using the pelvic bones. The seat belt does it’s job well. As NHTSA
says in the quote above, the seat belt will keep the woman as far as possible from the steering
wheel. That means there is a lot of restraining power that the seat belt uses to cinch a person
into their seat, thereby keeping her away from the steering wheel and more importantly keeping
her in the car itself.
The problem arises as the pregnancy develops and comes out in front of the pelvic bones that
the seat belt is meant to engage. At 9 weeks, the pregnancy is still well within the protection of
the pelvic bone. But already at 12 weeks, it starts to move out in front of the pelvic bone, as
Now, if you are sitting down, feel where your pelvic bone is and knowing that the pregnancy is
that low inside your pelvic area, how are you supposed to get the seat belt “below” the
pregnancy when the seat belt is supposed to catch those bones?That’s right. You can’t.
Of course there are many factors in play during a crash especially with a pregnant woman. The
speed of the crash is probably the biggest factor. Even in a low-speed minor crash, injuries can
occur that affect the pregnancy.
“I didn’t sustain any major injuries and all my minor injuries were caused by the safety features
in my car. I had chemical burns on my hands and bruises on both arms where the airbags came
out, I also had pain in my chest and face from the airbags. The seatbelt also gave me bruises
across my chest and on the bottom of my belly where I was told to wear the belt during
pregnancy. Because of the seatbelt the doctors were worried about placental abruption or
internal bleeding. I spent the evening in the hospital and the baby was monitored for 13 hours,”
mom-to-be, Crickett Holmes, of Durango, Colorado shared about her low-speed crash with a
snow plow that unexpectedly started making a U-turn in front of her.
A study by the University of Michigan estimates that about 170,000 car crashes in the U.S.
each year involve pregnant women. On average, 2.9% of women report being hurt in a “car
accident” during pregnancy. If you do the math based on an average of 4 million babies born a
year, that’s 116,000 crashes where a mom-to-be is injured, at least somewhat.
The common injuries related to car crashes during pregnancy include: placental abruption,
uterine rupture, direct fetal injury, maternal death or fetal loss
If buckling up is three times safer than not and there is still this high of a number of pregnancies
lost, how can we enhance safety for pregnant women while driving?
Here are a few suggestions for safer driving during pregnancy:
Gauge how you feel. If you are feeling fatigued, nauseated or otherwise out of sorts, eat a
snack, drink some water or take a rest. Wait to drive until you feel you can have more focus.
Be a passenger. When possible, don’t drive, especially as your pregnancy progresses and your
uterus gets closer and closer to the steering wheel.
If you are driving:
Position yourself far back from the steering wheel. Move your seat as far back as is comfortable.
Try to position yourself so that your breastbone is at least 10 inches from the steering wheel.
Tilt the steering wheel toward your breastbone rather than toward your abdomen to position the
airbag so it does not deploy into the abdomen.
Wear your seat belt.
Use a Tummy Shield, a crash-tested maternity seat belt adjuster, to safely redirect the seat belt
and keep it from crossing your abdomen, creating a leg harness much like a race car driver.
Tummy Shield also increases the comfort while wearing a seatbelt which may be reason
enough to use one for some moms-to-be
Following these suggestions may one day save your baby or the baby of someone dear to you
from potentially fatal injuries because of a car crash during pregnancy.
For additional tips, Safe Ride 4 Kids has a downloadable guide here about safe driving during pregnancy.
Amie Durocher has been a certified CPS Technician since 2004. She is the Creative Director at
Safe Ride 4 Kids, < http://saferide4kids.com> a company that offers up-to-date car safety
information and innovative products, like the Tummy Shield, to help parents keep their precious
little ones safe.