Wow! You are pregnant!
Are you excited? Are you a bit nervous too?
You are not the only mom-to-be to feel a lot of joy and apprehension at the same time. Pregnancy is a time of a roller coaster of emotions. It’s a time of planning and questions.
Since you became pregnant, have you ever sat in the car, put on the seat belt and wondered if it’s really safe?
That’s common too. And usually our concerns are calmed by our friends or doctors assuring us it’s safe to use the seat belt as long as you wear it correctly — under the belly and across midchest/midshoulder. After all, they all safely wore their seat belt throughout their pregnancies.
They are not all together wrong. The problem is they aren’t all together right either.
Certainly, wearing the seat belt is safer (by 3 times) than not wearing your seat belt during pregnancy. And by the seat belt doing its job restraining you, it can injure the baby.
The Myth: The Seat Belt is Optimum Protection
You see, in the first trimester, the uterus is still low in the abdomen and surrounded by the pelvis. In the second and third trimesters, it grows upward and outward. The pregnancy loses the protection of the pelvic ring and displaces other abdominal organs. (Friese; Wojciehoski, 2005)
The seat belt is designed to cinch down on the hip bones and shoulder to restrain the occupant during a crash. The seat belt webbing is very strong and does its job well. (Remember when the car comes to a sudden halt, your body still wants to move at the speed the car was going.) When the pregnancy grows up and out of the pelvic ring, the seat belt has to tighten into the pregnancy to engage the hip bones.
Of course, there are other factors that play into injury potential, including how mom is carrying the pregnancy, how far along the pregnancy is and how fast the car is moving. The speed at which the crash occurs is a big factor. Even at low speeds, injuries can occur that affect the pregnancy.
Even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warns the baby can be injured “from crash forces concentrated in the area where the seat belt crosses the mother’s abdomen.” (This quote was deleted when they redesigned their website but you can still see it here).
The Facts: What Pregnant Moms Should Know
1. A 2008 University of Michigan study estimates 170,000 car crashes in the U.S. involve pregnant women annually. 2.9% of women report being injured in a car crash while they were pregnant. (Klinich et al, 2008) Based on the approximately 4 million babies born a year, there are 116,000 crashes where a pregnant woman is at least somewhat injured.
2. Based on our review of 24 driving during pregnancy studies an estimated 3,000 pregnancies are lost every year because of car crashes. This is an average of all estimates we found. One study showed a low of 370 and another a high estimate of 5,000. These estimates are just looking at the number of pregnancies lost in a car crash. They do not account for the other possible adverse outcomes like in-utero injuries which cause future disabilities, complications from an emergency delivery or head trauma, which is the most common fetal injury. Fetal death can occur even if the mother has no visible injuries. (Friese; Wojciehoski, 2005)
3. During pregnancy a baby is at 5 times the risk of dying in a car crash compared to an infant from birth to 9 months. This risk factor is based on the 227 crashes in 2012 where both the pregnant mom and baby died. There were 60 newborns who died in car crashes the same year. The risk ratio is thought to be highly underestimated 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,” the researchers explained (Evans, Redelmeier, 2015).
The Tips: Things to do to Increase Your Safety
1. Strange as it may sound, a 2014 study revealed an increase in crashes among pregnant women. The highest increase was during the second trimester. Researchers believe it may be because pregnant women feel more fatigued or even nauseated. (Redelmeier; Thiruchelvam, 2014) Before you drive, assess how you feel. If you feel tired perhaps you can postpone your trip or ask someone else to drive.
2. Be a passenger. This doesn’t take the seat belt out of the equation. It does remove the steering wheel from the equation and reduces the airbag factor since you can push the seat back and farther away.
3. Wear your seat belt along with a crash-tested pregnancy seat belt adjuster that is made of crash-quality materials. Make sure it’s of high quality and crash tested because there are some available that could make the situation worse.
Amie Durocher has been a certified CPS Technician since 2004. She is the Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids, a company that offers up-to-date car safety information and innovative products, like the pregnancy seat belt adjuster called Tummy Shield, to help parents keep their precious little ones safe.
1. Friese, Greg; Wojciehoski, Randal F.; “Fetal Trauma from Motor Vehicle Collisions .” EMS World. (July 1, 2005)
2. Klinich PhD, Kathleen DeSantis; Flannagan PhD, Carol A. C.; Rupp PhD, Jonathan D.; Sochor MD, Mark; Schneider PhD, Lawrence W.; Pearlman MD, Mark D.; “Fetal Outcome in Motor-Vehicle Crashes: Effects of Crash Characteristics and Maternal Restraint.” American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Volume 198, Issue 4 (April 2008): p450.e1–450.e9.
3. Evans L, Redelmeier DA. “Traffic Deaths Before and After Birth.” European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology volume 194, (November 2015): p258-259.
4. Redelmeier DA, May SC, Thiruchelvam D, Barrett JF. “Pregnancy and the risk of a traffic crash.” Canadian Medical Association Journal volume 186 (10), (May 2014): p742–50.