We often hear about the things women should avoid during pregnancy. Don’t eat sushi or unpasteurized cheeses. Stay away from nicotine and alcohol, and limit caffeine intake. Don’t wear high heels and avoid from hot tubs and saunas. But what about situations that carry some risk but are difficult to avoid?
Studies show that women who are pregnant are 42 percent more likely to be in a car accident than women who are not pregnant. That amounts to 170,000 pregnant women involved in an accident in the U.S. each year. Researchers attribute this phenomenon to the fatigue, aches and pains, changes in mood, increased anxiety and nausea which accompany pregnancy and lead to distractions behind the wheel. Even though driving during pregnancy carries a risk of injury to the mother and her unborn child, there are steps women can take to minimize the odds of being hurt.
Wearing a seat belt is an essential to the safety of any motorist, but it’s even more important for pregnant women. Wearing a seat belt may at first seem counterintuitive during pregnancy – a lap belt goes across the abdomen above the fetus – but wearing a seat belt gives both the mother and unborn child the best odds of surviving a crash.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends placing the lap portion of the seat belt below the belly, pulled snugly across the hips and pelvic bone. The shoulder belt should be across the chest and over the middle portion of the collar bone and away from the neck.
Where a pregnant woman is sitting in the car can greatly influence whether she will sustain an injury in the event of an accident. If pregnant women can avoid driving, they should. The safest place to sit in a car is in the middle of the backseat, so long as it has a three-point seat belt.
When behind the wheel, you should keep 10 inches of distance between the steering wheel and the breastbone. This distance will minimize the impact of an airbag in case of deployment. As the belly grows, it may become more difficult to keep the 10-inch distance, so move the seat back as far as is comfortable and tilt the steering wheel upwards and away from the abdomen.
Go with your gut
Before driving, take an inventory of how you feel. If you’re nauseated, tired or otherwise feeling poorly, ask someone else to drive or delay your trip until you feel better. Cut down on as many distractions as you can – including minimizing the use of your cell phone or the radio. On longer journeys, take frequent breaks to use the bathroom and stretch your legs. Getting the blood circulating can increase alertness and refresh you.
And most importantly, if you feel you are unable to drive, allow yourself to pull over and rest. Both your life and the life of your fetus are at stake.