Driving While Pregnant
Were you comfortable when driving while pregnant?
I am the mother of three children. I’ve carried 3 babies to term (I lost 3 also). Each time I was pregnant, I wondered about the actual safety of the seat belt across my belly if I ever were to be in a crash. Plus I was super uncomfortable wearing a seat belt. At the time I thought my only options were to wear it and deal with the discomfort and potential injury from the seat belt OR not wear it and face the potential death of myself and/or my baby in the event of a crash.
Ultimately, being a firefighter’s wife and a child passenger safety technician, I chose to wear the seat belt and deal with the discomfort.
Seat Belts and Pregnancy? Comfort
The comfort factor of a seat belt across the pregnant belly is obvious. Comfort, seat belt and pregnancy just don’t equate for most women.
Let’s just get this out of the way before diving deep into the safety.
For me even in the very beginning it was uncomfortable. In the beginning of my pregnancies the seat belt bothered me for one of two reasons and sometimes both. One was the seat belt seemed to just dig into my always-having-to-pee bladder. As if I wasn’t already about to pee my pants, I could hardly deal with the added pressure. Two was the seat belt pushed from the outside on my already nauseated-feeling belly. It made my stomach want to revolt. Then of course as time went on and my belly grew to inhuman proportions, there was just no good place to put the seat belt. So from the beginning to the end, I drove around with a thumb pulling the seat belt away from my belly. I knew this wasn’t really safe but it was all I could do to still wear a seat belt.
That’s why when I saw the Tummy Shield for the first time, I felt like singing, “Hallelujah.” If only I had found it a couple years earlier, I would have been in heaven driving through my last pregnancy.
But alas, while it was available somewhere in the world, it never came to my attention.
To me the Tummy Shield is intuitively the answer to my discomfort from the seat belt and curiosity about seat belt safety while pregnant. I’ve recently been doing more research about the dangers of driving while pregnant for our website and it makes me want to shout to the world, “Protect yourself, protect your baby, use the Tummy Shield!”
Of course coming from a cofounder in a company that has decided to sell the Tummy Shield, that may come across as biased. So let me share with you a condensed version of the information I’ve learned.
Keeping Mom and Baby in the Womb Safe When Driving While Pregnant
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reminds moms-to-be that buckling up is the single most effective action you can take to protect yourself and your unborn child in a crash. Yes, absolutely. No matter how uncomfortable it is, it’s definitely safer to wear a seat belt than not.
“Pregnant women not wearing a seat belt during a motor vehicle crash were 1.3 times more likely to have low birth weight babies and 3 times more likely to experience fetal death compared to pregnant women who wear seat belts,” said Hank Wess, MPH, PhD, Center for Injury Research and Control, University of Pittsburgh.
Weiss estimated based on what little data has actually been recorded on fetal death and motor vehicle crashes that of 4 million annual live births in the U.S., there are approximately 170,000 crashes involving pregnant women and 7 times the number of fetuses involved in a crash compared to infants involved in crash. That means, according to his calculations, there are roughly 700 fetal deaths a year from motor vehicle crashes. (Wow!) Comparatively, there are 120 infant deaths from motor vehicle crashes.
(Update: Other studies we’ve since reviewed say up to 5,000 pregnancies are lost every year due to car crashes. We typically take and use the average of all the studies which is an estimated 3,000 pregnancies lost in car crashes.)
The occurrence of a crash is really just as possible pre-birth as after.
Download our free PDF guide: Safer Driving During Pregnancy
How many infants are involved in crashes that still result in 120 deaths even though there are laws and devices to help protect the those infants? There are not yet laws to protect the fetus. But there is now a crash tested safety device, the Tummy Shield.
James E. Hofferberth of the Center For Prenatal Safety and former Director of the Office Of Crashworthiness at NHTSA, said the fetus of a pregnant woman is at 5 times the risk of a 0 to 1 year old child in the same car using standard, mandated restraint systems. He added that placental abruption is the most common cause of fetal death.
Update: Turns out this may be a low estimate. A 2015 study (1) shows that a unborn child is at least at 5 times the risk as a newborn. But the study only took into account the instances in which the mother died in the crash as well. So when the incidents in which just the pregnancy is lost but the mother survives is included, this risk factor could be much higher.)
What about wearing the seat belt as directed?
NHTSA’s recommendation is to adjust your seat back as far as possible and wear your seat belt below your belly. (I don’t know about you, but there was no “below” my belly when I sat down; my belly become an extension of my thighs. You are getting a pretty picture right now, aren’t you?)
Hofferberth on the other hand says, “It is impossible to prevent crushing the baby by ‘wearing the seat belt low.’” His images indicate even wearing the seat belt low “below” the belly, as recommended by NHTSA, it still crosses the abdomen and the fetus, placenta, etc.
Clinical studies have shown that “…the lap belt … has been implicated in causing specific trauma to the placenta and fetus … in relatively minor vehicular accidents. And “…the tightened lap belt can cause direct injury to the fetus without severely injuring the pregnant woman.” (2 and 3) The images below show a simulated time lapse of the seat belt considered in “correct” position on a pregnant belly going through a crash.
You may ask “why hasn’t my doctor said anything about this?”
While we believe OBs and midwives share the best information they have, they are busy with a whole spectrum of prenatal concerns and have not necessarily been educated about the safety concerns of driving while pregnant and new crash-tested ways to help protect the fetus and mother in the event of a crash. (And we haven’t had the chance to educate all of them, yet.)
We want to know, have you discussed safe driving during pregnancy with your doctor or midwife? Share your comments below.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
Copyright 2018 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.
We originally published this post in May 2014. We updated the post for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
- (1) 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.
- (2) [Crosby, W. M. and Costiloe, J. P. (1971). Safety of lapbelt restraint for pregnant victims of automobile collisions. New England Journal of Medicine, 284, 632], [Klinich, K.D., Schneider, L.W., Moore, J.L., and Pearlman, M.D. (1998). Injuries to pregnant occupants in automotive crashes. In 16’* ESV Conference Proceedings. Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 98-SP-P- 17,2046-2056]
- (3) [Griffiths, M., Hillman, G., and Usherwood, M. M. (1991). Seat belt injury in pregnancy resulting in fetal death. A need for education? Case reports. British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 98,420-321]