When Should I Stop Driving While Pregnant?

by Esther

MANY PREGNANT WOMEN ASK, “WHEN SHOULD I STOP DRIVING WHILE PREGNANT OR CAN I DRIVE THE WHOLE TIME?”

The general answer is you never have to stop driving while pregnant. You can drive throughout your pregnancy as long as you are comfortable, can reach everything you need to in your car, and can comfortably and safely maneuver the car.

Some women find they are exceptionally tired so they may stop driving while pregnant. After all driving while sleepy is akin to driving while drunk and never a good idea.

Other women find that they are uncomfortable sitting in a car either because of the seat belt feeling tight across their low belly or because of the position their body is in due to the angles of the seat. For instance, in a low bucket type seat, the woman’s legs may be angled upward, even enough to be pushing on her belly from below. This could cause discomfort for the belly or the back.

Personally I drove throughout all three of my pregnancies. I actually helped other parents install their car seats up to my due date during my first two pregnancies. I had a lot of discomfort in general during my third pregnancy so I did limit my driving but I was able to when necessary.

Of course it depends on your situation but for many women, driving during pregnancy is a necessity. So let me answer some other common questions.

IS IT SAFE TO DRIVE WHILE PREGNANT?

Yes, and. Let me first explain the yes before I get to the “and” part.

As mentioned above, for most women there is no reason to stop driving while pregnant. It’s safe to continue to drive.

Now on longer drives, your bladder may require you to stop more often. And you’ll likely enjoy these breaks to stretch or walk to relieve any backache.

And… You should be aware that there are inherently additional risks to driving when you are pregnant. For one a Canadian study showed that pregnant women, particularly in the second trimester, were reportedly in 42 percent more crashes than their equivalent non-pregnant counterparts.

And… If there is a car crash mom and baby face more potential injuries than a non-pregnant would face just from the nature of being pregnant. For instance a common injury pregnant women in a car crash experience is placental abruption, which can lead to losing the baby.

Research show that need for increased attention to seat belt use during pregnancy and that car crashes are dangerous for pregnant women, even when injuries sustained in the event are minor or appear to be nonexistent (Fries & Hankins, 1989; Hagmann, Schmitt-Mecheike, Caduff & Berger, 2004).

SHOULD I WEAR A SEAT BELT?

Yes… Absolutely. Wearing a seat belt is shown to be 3 times safer than not wearing a seat belt during pregnancy. “Protecting the mother is the first step in protecting the fetus,” says Kathleen Klinich associate research scientist at the University of Michigan.

The seat belt is the first line of defense in a crash. It is designed to keep the occupant in her seat and prevent being ejected from the vehicle. The hope is by protecting the mother during a crash the baby will be OK as well. There is a higher chance of losing the baby if the mom is fatally injured.

So yes, very important to always buckle up.

BUT CAN WEARING A SEAT BELT DURING PREGNANCY BE DANGEROUS?

I’m going to tell you something you probably won’t read any where else, yet.

Yes, absolutely wear the seat belt during pregnancy. And yes, the seat belt can cause injury.

Many women worry about wearing a seat belt during pregnancy and potential injury from it. And most literature and doctors will tell those women, it is safer for mom and baby if the seat belt is used. We agree with that which is why I emphatically said, yes, absolutely wear your seat belt.

But what most other literature and doctors fail to tell you is that the seat belt does pose risk of injury. However, the risk of injury of not wearing a seat belt is even greater! As I mentioned above, the seat belt is the first line of defense. This is good. You want to stay in the car and ride the crash down in your seat.

And… A 2008 study published in Surgical and Radiologic Anatomy says, “Trauma affect between 3 and 7% of all pregnancies in industrialized countries, and the leading cause of these traumas is car crashes. Two main kinematics events were identified as possible causes of injuries: lap belt loading and backrest impact.”

WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

Here’s the thing. While the seat belt is holding the pregnant women in the seat, it is designed to contact the pelvic bones and cinch mom down into the seat. The expanding uterus grows into the peritoneal cavity after the 12th week of pregnancy — you know, about the time you start buying maternity clothes — and the uterus is more susceptible to injury. (Friese, Wojciehoski, Randal; 2005) The same study estimates 1,500 to 5,000 pregnancies lost because of car crashes. (We at Safe Ride 4 Kids use 3,000 per year based on an average of all the studies we’ve reviewed.)

Even when you are wearing your seat belt as recommended while driving pregnant — as low as possible, some say under the pregnancy, though as we describe in this post there is no “under” the pregnancy — the natural tendency of the pelvis is to submarine under the lap belt during a crash. During this submarining action even the low-worn seat belt moves up the belly over the pregnancy during a car crash.

There is only one crash-tested way, we’ve found to safely prevent this submarining effect during a crash and to keep the seat belt from penetrating into the abdomen and pregnancy, the Tummy Shield pregnancy seat belt positioner.

REMEMBER IT IS SAFER FOR BOTH MOM AND BABY IF MOM WEARS A SEAT BELT

“While these results show that placental injuries can occur to properly belted pregnant occupants, they also show that avoiding belt use during pregnancy may significantly increase the risk of placental abruption and subsequent fetal loss in a crash,” says researcher Kathleen Klinich in a 1998 study.

Here’s the critical information you need to remember to be safe and not have to stop driving while pregnant:

  • Wear your seat belt.
  • Make sure your seat belt is properly positioned (watch this video for best practice)
  • Use a Tummy Shield to position the seat belt safely while eliminating the submarine effect and keep the seat belt completely away from the pregnant abdomen
  • Angle the airbag up toward your chest.

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