Should Pregnant Women Buckle-Up?

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Kid's Doctor

Posted on March 15, 2013 at 5:01 AM

Updated Friday, Mar 15 at 5:01 AM

Should expectant mothers buckle up and make sure the air bag is turned on before driving or riding in a car?  Absolutely say researchers in a recent study by the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC.

Many women are concerned that, in case of an accident, seat belts and /or air bags might harm their unborn child, but according to the study, expectant mothers who are not restrained during a car crash are more likely to lose the pregnancy than those who are.

According to the March of Dimes, nearly 170,000 pregnant women are involved in a motor vehicle accident each year.

"One thing we're always concerned about is (educating) patients on seatbelt use," said Dr. Haywood Brown, the chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Duke University Medical Center and senior author of the new study.

"Nonetheless, like all individuals, some choose and some do not choose to wear their seatbelt," he added.

For the study, Brown and his colleagues searched through the trauma registry at Duke University Hospital. They found 126 cases of women in their 2nd and 3rd trimesters that had been in a car crash and were cared for at the hospital between 1994 and 2010.

What they discovered was that 86 mothers were wearing a seat belt when the crash occurred. Of that group, 3.5 percent or (3) fetuses died.

12 mothers were not wearing a seat belt. Of the unrestrained group, 25 percent or (3) fetuses died. 

"The bottom line is, you've got to wear your restraint because it decreases the risk not only for your injuries but injury to your child," Brown told Reuters Health.

Where should the seat belt be placed? The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that the seat belt be fitted low across the hipbones and below the belly.

The March of Dimes offers more seat belt and air bag guidelines for pregnant women:

  • Always wear both the lap and shoulder belt.
  • Never place the lap belt across your belly.
  • Rest the shoulder belt between your breasts and off to the side of your belly.
  • Never place the shoulder belt under your arm.
  • If possible, adjust the shoulder belt height to fit you correctly.
  • Make sure the seat belt fits snugly.
  • Driving can be tiring for anyone. Try to limit driving to no more than 5-6 hours per day.
  • Never turn off the air bags if your car has them. Instead, tilt your car seat and move it as far as possible from the dashboard or steering wheel.
  • If you are in a crash, get treatment right away to protect yourself and your baby.
  • Call your health provider at once if you have contractions, pain in your belly, or blood or fluid leaking from your vagina.

Researchers found that first time mothers were the least likely to use a seat belt. Brown noted it's possible that the habit of buckling in children might prompt mothers to put on their own seatbelt.

Mothers-to-be also worry about airbags and whether they could harm the fetus if a crash causes deployment.

In the study, airbags came out in 17 of the accidents, and in those cases the mother was more likely to experience the placenta separating from the uterus - a condition that can be fatal for the mother or the fetus.

Another researcher, not involved in the study, suggested to Reuters Health that the severity of the accidents, and not the airbags, might have been the cause of the serious consequences.

Brown said some women will disarm the airbag for fear that it will damage the baby in case of a crash, but "it's not the smart thing to do because it will save your life if the airbag comes out."

A study, from researchers in Washington State, found that airbags did not increase the risk of most pregnancy-related injuries.

No one likes to think about the damage a car accident can cause, but the reality is that seat belts and air bags save lives. Mothers-to-be, like everyone else, should use theirs when driving or riding in a car. You may need to make some adjustments so that your seat belt fits safely and correctly and the air bag is not right up next to your stomach, but taking those few extra steps could mean the difference between life and death.

Sources: Kerry Grens, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/08/us-buckle-up-during-pregnancy-idUSBRE92710P20130308

http://www.marchofdimes.com/pregnancy/stayingsafe_seatbelts.html

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