The Risks of Car Accidents for Pregnant Women
A car accident is always a scary prospect, and any car accident carries the risk of serious injury. If you are pregnant, there are specific risks that you should be aware of if you have been in a car accident, however minor. Unfortunately, unborn children are not immune to traffic fatalities while they are in the womb, and an estimated 300 to 1,000 unborn children die due to car accidents every year. For comparison’s sake, this is four times the number of young children (under 4 years of age) that die in car crashes. In fact, motor crash injuries are the number one cause of fetal death due to maternal trauma.
Any car accident, even if it is a small fender bender where you were rear ended and experienced a jolt and some damage to your bumper, may put your pregnancy at risk. Moreover, while doctors warn women always to get checked when they have experienced any sort of trauma or injury to the abdominal region, it is possible for your pregnancy to be at risk even if your abdominal region was not affected in a car crash.
Specifically, any jolting or trauma due to a car crash when you are pregnant could cause issues that have ramifications for the pregnancy. This is because the attachment to the mother that supplies an unborn child with nourishment and oxygen, the placenta uterine attachment, is a delicate attachment. If detached (medically known as “placental abruption”), the fetus loses oxygen, which can lead to death. In fact, 80% of fetal deaths due to car accidents are linked to detachment of this placenta uterine attachment.
Other than the risk of the unborn child’s death, being in a car accident while pregnant can cause other risks to the pregnancy. The trauma of the accident can cause premature birth, hemorrhaging, or birth defects (likely if the placental attachment was interrupted and the fetus did not receive the oxygen and nutrients needed).
These circumstances are worsened by the fact that pregnant women are, unfortunately, at a higher risk of being involved in a car crash. A 2014 study found that pregnant women – especially women in their second trimester -- had a much higher likelihood (as high as 42%) of being involved in a serious car crash. It is speculated that pregnant women are more easily distracted due, perhaps, from the fact that they are likely to be suffering from insomnia and other hormonal, physiological disruptions. Notably, this higher risk of being in a car crash was seen only in pregnant drivers, and not passengers or pedestrians.
Pregnant women who drive should, therefore, take special care when driving, both for their own health and for the health of their unborn child. Even with “baby brain,” car accidents can be avoided by following traffic rules and safe driving best practices. Further, because trauma to the abdomen seems more often than not to be caused by impact to the abdomen by the steering wheel, expecting moms should attempt to sit as far back from the steering wheel as comfortable and safe, with some experts even recommending the use of pedal extenders. In addition, expecting mothers should take care always to wear their seatbelts (even if they are particularly uncomfortable during pregnancy). Note that seatbelts are meant to sit on parts of you that are bony, and, therefore, the bottom part of your seat belt should not go across your abdomen but lay across your pelvis.
If you do happen to be in a car accident, even if you do not feel the immediate effects of injury, you should go to the hospital or see your doctor immediately. The fetus should be monitored and checked to make sure that the accident did not damage the placenta or create any other cause for concern, and doctors may want to monitor you for a number of hours if you experience bleeding or contractions. Further, once you are given the green light to go home, you should still be on the lookout for any subsequent bleeding, fluid leakage, a drop in the baby’s movements that you feel, abdominal pain or contractions. If you experience any of these or any other concerning symptoms, it is better to be safe than sorry, and it is advisable that you seek medical advice immediately.