Tips for Driving While Pregnant
You took a pregnancy test that showed positive. You visited your doctor. 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.)
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? Do you just start walking everywhere? Do you start to work from home and have everything you need delivered to you? (Wait, right now you might be.)
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 [according to CDC] to 170,000 [University of Michigan study]) 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 even 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.)
What’s a girl to do? Here are some tips for driving while pregnant
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
- 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.
- Cut down the distractions. You are pregnant, you have enough going on in your body and on your mind without additional distractions. Let your cell phone and radio be and concentrate on the road. Be extra cautious — or don’t drive — in inclement weather conditions or during high traffic times.
- Plan frequent breaks. If you’ll be in the car for several hours, stop, stretch and walk a bit. (It’s a good
excusetime to visit the restroom.) You’ll get the blood moving and feel more alert.
- 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.
Download our free PDF guide: Safer Driving During Pregnancy
Position in the Car
- 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.
- Position yourself far back from the steering wheel. 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. 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 200 to 400 mph and you can’t angle the passenger airbag. We want to reduce any impact it may have on your pregnancy.
- 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.
- 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. 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) but only if it has the lap-shoulder belt.
- 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.
- Use a Tummy Shield. There are several products available which “keeps the seat belt low” but only one has been 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.) Consider the Tummy Shield as Baby’s First Car Seat™.
- 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.
Uh oh, I was in a crash, now what?
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.
We wish you happy, safe, comfortable driving during pregnancy.
We want to know, did your doctor share any tips for driving while pregnant? Share your comments below.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
Copyright 2020 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.