Pregnancy Car Safety: Why Some Say No and Why You Should Anyway
We have been in the child passenger safety world for a long time. So we get it why some experts would not consider Tummy Shield a prenatal must-have for pregnancy car safety.
I can’t blame them. We didn’t consider anything other than a seat belt as necessary for my and my baby’s safety when I was pregnant.
I mean, if it was available back then, I would have wanted it as a prenatal must-have for my comfort. Neither my doctors nor midwife ever talked to me about driving during pregnancy. And what little I had seen about it back then, I figured was accurate. That is wear the seat belt low and all is well.
It didn’t feel well. And I wondered about the position as it rubbed on my bump, as many moms-to-be do. But the doctors and prenatal book authors were the experts. Right?
Who are the Pregnancy Car Safety Experts?
Actually prenatal healthcare providers spend little time, if any, learning crash dynamics in regard to their pregnant patients. They are taught the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration’s recommendation to wear the seat belt low on the belly or even “below” the pregnancy. And that’s what they go by.
“According to Professor Hank Weiss, of the University of Otago in New Zealand, [who studied the risks posed to pregnant women and fetuses by motor vehicle trauma for more than 20 years] the dangers to pregnant women and fetuses are great enough that doctors should consult with expectant mothers about the risk of driving as a matter of routine,” said an Atlantic City Lab article in 2013 (1).
If your doctor said “don’t use the Tummy Shield, you don’t need it,” it’s likely they aren’t familiar with it and the testing it underwent. A few customer’s doctors said this so they shared our report with them and the doctor later OKed them using the Tummy Shield.
Child Passenger Safety Technicians also learn and endorse NHTSA’s recommendation. More than that, technicians learn in training aftermarket products are not to be used. Actually the book says “non-approved products”, meaning products not approved for use by the car seat manufacturer with their car seat. Examples include infant inserts or vehicle seat protectors.
Does unregulated mean unsafe?
Now some technicians say that’s because unregulated aftermarket products are unsafe. And while that may actually be the case for some products, the reality is some of these products might be perfectly fine to use. The real problem is that they haven’t been crash tested. Or they haven’t been crash tested in this particular scenario or with this particular seat.
So really it’s a matter of we don’t know how it will perform. Since we don’t know, we recommend against it.
In some cases, there are potential scenarios where we know a product could pose a threat. For instance, mirrors for rear-facing car seats so the driver can see the baby in the rear-view mirror. In case you haven’t heard this before, here’s the reasoning. Some designs of the mirrors could have the potential to detach during a crash scenario at which point it will become a flying projectile in the car. Another potential threat is that they are typically made of hard plastic and the rear facing seat could rebound into the back of the vehicle seat and the baby could bonk its head on the hard plastic mirror at a really fast speed. Cause for concern? Maybe. Again we haven’t seen crash testing done, so we don’t really know.
Tummy Shield still falls into the unregulated, aftermarket product category. So some (but not all) car seat technicians automatically put that in the “do not use” category, and sometimes even the unsafe category, without really looking into it or giving it much consideration.
While some aftermarket products remain untested, Tummy Shield underwent extensive testing to prove it’s safety and crash worthiness.
Here’s our take on Tummy Shield for pregnancy car safety
As a pregnant woman. When I saw the Tummy Shield for the first time my thought was, “that would have made the seat belt so much more comfortable.”
As a paramedic. Greg, on the other hand, had been a paramedic where the protocol is to take any pregnant woman in who was in a crash to the hospital no matter if she seems OK or not. He knew the risk of injury was serious even in minor crashes. When he first saw the Tummy Shield it just made sense as something to reduce injury potential for pregnant women.
As child passenger safety technicians. When you look deeper into the studies, you realize there’s a certain amount of risk in the design of the lap belt as is for pregnant women. Couple that with the fact there are no crash test standards for pregnant driving even for the seat belt itself. And you realize maybe there is a problem. We realized just how much of a prenatal must-have the Tummy Shield should be.
Support from other car seat experts
And we’re not alone. Several CPS technicians have used the Tummy Shield for their own pregnancies. And some unofficially recommend it to others.
Here’s what a couple of them have to say:
Erin said: “As a Child Passenger Safety Technician, I am very aware of the importance of keeping all passengers in the vehicle safe. I hadn’t really thought about keeping my unborn child protected. So when I came across this product I realized it really was a problem and I felt like [Tummy Shield] was something that was going to help keep me safe. … I would never want to look back and wonder if there was something more I could have done to protect my child.”
Elizabeth said: “There’s a difference between “unregulated” and “unsafe.” I am the [CPS] tech who test-drove it in my most recent pregnancy. I really did like it. …. Sadly, we don’t have any standards to test these products against so it’s up to the consumer to make the best guess she can. But the fact is that seat belts don’t have to pass any pregnancy-related safety standards either so NOT using the Tummy Shield is just as much of a judgment call.”
Some might say those studying the risk are the real experts.
What the pregnancy car safety studies say
Here’s a few highlights (we list most of the studies we reviewed here if you want to go more in depth in the driving and pregnancy studies):
- “Automobile crashes are the largest single cause of death for pregnancy women and the leading cause of traumatic fetal injury mortality in the United States,” US National Library of Medicine. Approximately 92,500 pregnant women are injured each year.
- Average of 3,000 estimated number of pregnancies lost every year in the US from car crashes. (1,500-5,000 according to Pearlman 1997 (2); 800-3200 according to Klinich et al 1999 ; 369 after 20 weeks gestation, unknown number before as reporting is not required according to Weiss et al 2001 (3))
- “The risk of adverse fetal outcome for properly restrained pregnant occupants is less than 10% in minor crashes and more than 60% in severe crashes.” (4)
- “Although it was known at that time [1970s] that the lap and shoulder belts posed a significant unintended injury risk to the unborn children of pregnant women (King, Crosby, Stout, Eppinger, (1972). Effects of Lap Belt and Three Point Restraints on Pregnant Baboons Subjected to Deceleration. Fifteenth Stapp Crash Conference Proceedings, SAE #710850, 68-83), over time is has been demonstrated that the lap and shoulder belt system provides a significant improvement in fetal safety relative to the situation where the mother does not use the lap and shoulder belt restraints. However current data shows that risk to the fetus is still elevated, on the order of 5 times greater than the risk to a 0 to 1 year old sibling riding in the same car. (Weiss HB, Sauber-Schatz EK, Herring H., (December, 2011). The Risk of Motor Vehicle Crashes During Pregnancy, American Journal of Obstetrics and Genecology, Vol 1 (4)).” (5)
But don’t take our word for it…
In a 2009 USA Today article about pregnancy car safety, Steve Rouhana, senior technical leader for safety at Ford (now retired), said, “the seat belt is the best safety device in the vehicle today, but it doesn’t mean we can’t make it better.”
Still wonder if it is a pregnancy must-have?
How about we ask mothers who credit the Tummy Shield with keeping their baby safe and alive in a crash if Tummy Shield is a pregnancy must-have.
Or how about what Taylor told us after losing her baby in a crash prior to finding and learning about the Tummy Shield. She searched while laying in a hospital bed for a solution that might have prevented her loss. We are grateful she allows us to share her story to let other moms know the risk and hopefully save them from the heartache she still feels 3 years later. She thinks the Tummy Shield is such a prenatal must-have she’s bought one for her pregnant friends.
But don’t take just her word for it…
There are other moms who went through the devastation of losing a pregnancy in a car crash (short list here).
Could you be in a crash during pregnancy and be OK not using the Tummy Shield? Yes. And you could be in a crash and not be OK. Will a Tummy Shield definitely protect your pregnancy? To be honest, some crashes are so severe the chances are not good for anyone, Tummy Shield or no.
But the Tummy Shield has protected pregnancies in:
- a rollover crash landing on the passenger door where mom hung suspended in the driver’s seat until paramedics arrived. The ER doctor gave her a high-five when he found out she was using a Tummy Shield.
- another rollover crash where the car rolled twice and landed on the roof, mom hung upside down. “The ambulance and emergency crew told me that if it wasn’t for the Tummy Shield, my baby would have had a small chance of surviving; my baby is now 3 months old and healthy as she can be.”
- a mom was driving 80 mph on the freeway in Miami when she got hit, pushed into a guard rail, spun and hit again. That’s a high speed, three collision crash which she and her pregnancy survived using a Tummy Shield
Experts on both sides
A credentialed (doctor) expert mentioned worries about the Tummy Shield possibly breaking a femur. This would be a devastating (but survivable) injury, especially during pregnancy.
So let’s consider that for a moment. If a crash were severe enough to break a femur, the strongest bone in the body. What, pray tell, would have happened to the more china-bowl hip bones and pregnancy?
Secondly, the movement in a crash is typically what they call a submarine movement. This is where the body goes forward and under the lap belt. (Very bad in pregnancy and something the Tummy Shield prevents.) So how would the seat belt laying on top of, not putting pressure on the femur break the femur when the body is moving forward not up into the seat belt? And also why would safety experts design race car harness the same way over the upper thighs?
Is it a theoretical risk? Sure anything is possible. Is it likely? No, not likely. And not something anyone who was in a crash while using it has ever reported to us or the manufacturer in Australia in the 11 years the Tummy Shield has been in use internationally.
Download our free PDF guide: Safer Driving During Pregnancy
On the other hand, an equally credentialed — perhaps more credible — expert, a leading expert in biomechanical engineering, advocates for women using Tummy Shield for pregnancy car safety.
Necessity breeds solutions
Obviously we’re not the only ones that think a pregnancy seat belt positioner is a necessary prenatal item to further protect the pregnancy when driving. Just look at all the knockoff products being released.
Made of plastic, poorly positioning the seat belt too far forward of the crotch and not crash tested, we don’t consider them competition. — But be aware some have taken our text – word for word – and clips of our crash videos to use for their own products. (Apparently no one told them it wasn’t nice to steal, even as easy as it is on the internet.)
Until NHTSA creates regulations for this prenatal must-have and crash testing is required to meet certain standards, unsafe, untested products will continue to be available. Heck even cheap “fake” car seats are available online when it is illegal for retailers to sell illegal car seats so it may never not be a problem.
Protection now, just like you will protect later
Of course as a parent you are going to use a car seat once your little one is born. And because you want to protect that precious one, you would even if you didn’t legally have to. Well, the odds of being in a crash are the same during pregnancy as after. One study actually says the odds are greater.
And several studies say the risk of losing your pregnancy during a crash is actually five times greater than the risk of losing your baby in a crash during the first 9 months of your baby’s life. What?!
A 2015 study confirmed this statistic with the caveat that the number is only based on the 227 pregnant mothers who died (in which the unborn baby also died) compared to the 60 newborns who died in traffic crashes in 2012. “This ratio likely underestimates the disparity because the risk of crashing is increased during pregnancy [see above link], and we have ignored the many cases in which the mother survives but the fetus does not [Vladutiu CJ, Marshall SW, Poole C, Casteel C, Menard K, Weiss HB. Adverse pregnancy outcomes following motor vehicle crashes. Am J Prev Med 2013;45:629–36.].” (6)
“Traffic safety is an established part of pediatric care and the low rates of motor vehicle traffic fatalities during infancy indicate that such efforts are effective. The current data highlight that such prevention needs to start even earlier as a part of standard prenatal care. Specifically, pregnant women should be advised by their physicians on the even greater importance of road safety before the baby is born,” the 2015 Evans and Redelmeier study concludes.
So in a word, yes. Yes. The Tummy Shield is a prenatal must-have.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
Copyright 2021 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.
- Goodyear, Sarah, “Should Pregnant Women Be Warned About the Health Risks of Driving?” The Atlantic City Lab. (March 13, 2013)
- Pearlman, M.D., “Motor Vehicle Crashes, Pregnancy Loss and Preterm Labor.” International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics.Volume 57, Issue 2 (May 1997): p127–132.
- Weiss, HB; Songer, Thomas J.; Fabio, Anthony; “Fetal Deaths Related to Maternal Injury.” The Journal of American Medical Association. Volume 286, Issue 15 (October 2001): p1863-1868.
- 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.
- Hofferberth, James, (2013). Prevention of Fetal Injury in Motor Vehicle Crashes. (Online)
- Evans L, Redelmeier DA. “Traffic Deaths Before and After Birth.” European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology volume 194, (November 2015): p258-259.