You took a pregnancy test that showed positive. You visited your doctor. And you picked up your copy of “What to Expect When You Are Expecting” as it seems to be required reading. (If you didn’t buy it yet, don’t worry someone will buy it for you. I think I got three copies my first pregnancy.)
In any case, you have officially entered Mama mode.
You want to protect that little bean that’s cooking in your oven. You’re reading all the dos and don’ts of pregnancy.
What about driving while pregnant? Do you wear a seat belt? Do you go without? Or do you just start walking everywhere? Could you start to work from home and have everything you need delivered to you? (Wait, right now, probably.)
Pregnancy doesn’t mean you can stop living your life. Most women continue working rather late in their pregnancy – even if you’re not working outside of the home, the chores won’t wait for nine months. Many modern activities require you to drive.
However, driving is always risky and especially so as a pregnant woman.
Now that you’re driving while pregnant
You may have already read about the study that shows pregnant women are more likely to be in a crash than their nonpregnant friends. (Could it be the fact that most are feeling exhausted, nauseated, dizzy and/or unfocused?) You may have read the stats (anywhere from 32,800 to 170,000 ) of pregnant women who are involved in crashes every year. You may have heard car crashes are the leading cause of death and serious trauma during pregnancy.
It’s unlikely you can really stay home from now until you are rushed to the hospital (or have a home birth). And while walking everywhere may be viable, it really only is until you are waddling and so tired it takes you five hours to go a mile because of all the breaks you need to take. (OK, that’s an exaggeration.) But what is a woman to do?
Tips for safer driving while pregnant
It’s safe to drive throughout your pregnancy, especially if you follow these tips. But if you can, minimize the amount you drive while pregnant. The closer you get to your due date, the less you should drive. You certainly do not want to be on the road as you go into labor.
Here are some tips to staying safer in the car when you are driving while pregnant and protect that little one growing in your belly:
Before you drive
1. Prepare for breakdowns and emergencies.
You should always be prepared on the road, but especially so during pregnancy. It’s a good idea to purchase an emergency and first aid kit for the car and to have things such as rechargeable battery charger (to ensure you can call help), flashlight, a blanket for staying warm during a breakdown and some snacks and water to ensure you don’t start feeling too out of energy if you need to wait for repairs.
2. Gauge how you feel.
Like I said earlier the increase in accidents for pregnant women is likely due to fatigue, nausea, lack of focus, etc. So before you leave, check in with how you feel. And if you feel any of those things, ask someone else to drive or postpone your trip until you are feeling better. Eat a snack, drink some water, take a rest and see how you feel after that. Are you feeling more awake? Do you have better focus? If so, go and travel safe.
Your body now demands sustenance throughout the stay. Take snacks and water with you on the road. Staying hydrated will help you stay alert and energetic. Keep sipping a bit of fruit flavored water to guarantee you don’t feel fatigued while on the road. Of course, this might make you need to stop more but it’s better than being tired!
3. Plan frequent breaks.
When you’re pregnant, your body will behave differently and you need to adjust to these changes, especially when driving. If you’ll be in the car for several hours, stop, stretch and walk a bit. (It’s a good
excuse time to visit the restroom.) You’ll get the blood moving, feel more alert and reduce the potential for swelling.
It’s important to ensure you prepare for these and leave more room for breaks than you might normally. Add at least ten to 15 minutes to your shorter journeys, more time for longer road trips. Make sure to eat something before you hit the road and have a protein bar or other healthy snack at hand.
Planning to have plenty of time for the trip will also allow you to drive more safely and avoid common causes of car crashes, like speeding or distracted driving. If you need to drive in new environments, a GPS app might be useful in helping you stay calm and composed on the road. (We like Waze especially since it has a child reminder option as part of the app. Helpful for new parents!)
4. Cut down the distractions.
You are pregnant, you have enough going on in your body and on your mind without additional distractions when you are driving. Let your cell phone and radio be and concentrate on the road. Of course this advice goes even when you aren’t pregnant.
Be extra cautious — or don’t drive — in inclement weather conditions or during high traffic times.
5. Remove extra layers.
Coats and jackets could interfere with the placement of the seat belt. Plus it could make you uncomfortable and distracted if you get too warm. Coats also can restrict your ability to move freely behind the wheel.
Download our free PDF guide: Safer Driving During Pregnancy
Position in the Car
6. Be a passenger.
When possible, don’t drive, especially as your pregnancy progresses and your bump gets closer and closer to the steering wheel. Being a passenger takes one more element out of the crash equation. Even better, sit in the back seat. The center rear seat is the safest seat in the vehicle (which is why we CPS techs recommend putting the newborn baby’s car seat there when possible) but only if it has the lap-shoulder belt.
7. Position yourself far back from the steering wheel and/or airbag.
When you have to be the driver, 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. You can use after-market pedal extenders to put yourself in a position further away from the steering wheel. It’s just three inches, but that’s a lot of distance in an accident.
Make sure to adjust your mirrors for your new seating position too.
When you are the passenger, still position your seat as far back as possible to reduce contact with the airbag. While it is considered safe to use this secondary restraint system while pregnant, it does come shooting out at about 200 mph and you can’t angle the passenger airbag. We want to reduce any impact it may have on your pregnancy.
8. Tilt the steering wheel
But you might be able to tilt the driver’s side airbag. If you can, tilt the steering wheel toward your breastbone rather than toward your abdomen so that if the driver airbag does deploy it’s not directly into your abdomen.
9. Use a lap-shoulder belt.
Whether you’re the driver or a passenger, be sure to wear a full lap-shoulder belt, not a lap belt alone.
10. Buckle up correctly.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that pregnant women wear their safety belt correctly with the lap portion placed “under” the abdomen (as low as you can get it) and across the upper thighs and hip bones — never above or over the belly. (I don’t know about you but when I sat down while pregnant there was no “under” the abdomen. I could not do anything to keep the seat belt that low.) Keep the safety belt snug. And make sure the shoulder strap runs across your chest between your breasts. Never place it under your arm or behind your back.
Wearing a seat belt is necessary when you are driving. However, as your tummy continues to grow, wearing the seat belt can become a struggle.
There are several products available which claim to offer increased safety or comfort but only one was crash tested and safely redirects the seat belt completely away from the pregnant abdomen. Crash testing shows the Tummy Shield restrains the woman just as well as just the seat belt while protecting the abdomen from possible injury from the seat belt going across the pregnancy. (No matter how low the woman keeps the seat belt it does go across the baby in the womb in the pelvis area.)
12. Airbags and seat belts work together.
Continue to wear your seat belt even if your car has airbags for optimal protection, says NHTSA. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists agrees, saying the benefits of an air bag outweigh the risks to a pregnant woman and her baby. Side air bags have not been shown to pose a risk to passengers, just remember to resist resting against the side air bag storage compartment in case the bag deploys.
Tips in case you are in a crash
Most paramedics are trained to take all pregnant women involved in a crash to the hospital no matter how minor the incident. Even if you followed all the tips for driving while pregnant, there is always a risk for injury especially in more severe crashes. Seek medical attention quickly regardless of whether or not you have any visible physical injuries.
Your doctor will probably recommend having the baby’s heartbeat checked. Trauma from a car accident can cause preterm labor and, if there are injuries to the fetus, chances are you won’t be able to see or feel them.
According to the CDC, pregnant women in crashes without documented injuries are at greater risk of preterm labor. It’s possible, for example, to have placental abruption — when the placenta partially or completely separates from your uterus before the baby is born — without being aware of it, which could cause you to have your baby prematurely.
Sometimes women experience a crash and everything seems fine. Then a couple weeks later the mom-to-be will experience a miscarriage. Sometimes the two are related, however, if they are, often times they are not documented as a cause and effect.
With these tips, you can drive safely during pregnancy and enjoy your normal life. You just want to keep your wits about it – stay alert and remember to listen to your body. If you start feeling like driving isn’t a good idea, it’s better to find an alternative way of getting around. When you’re pregnant, you want to do things that feel comfortable and safe that should include driving during pregnancy.
We want to know, did your doctor share any tips for safer driving while pregnant? Share your comments below.
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.
We originally published this post in June 2014. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.