Pregnant women face a long list of things they can’t (or shouldn’t) do. Many everyday things from certain food and drink to baths to flying — so many thing can potentially cause harm to a woman’s growing fetus or may complicate her pregnancy or birth. It sometimes feels as if the prevailing advice for pregnant women—and even women of childbearing age who aren’t expecting—is to practically encase themselves in bubble wrap for 40 weeks. But these women still must live, work, and often take care of other children while expecting. They may also just want to have the freedom to drive. So the million-dollar question is: Is it safe for women to drive while pregnant?
Although some doctors advise pregnant women not to drive at all (hire an Uber, have a spouse drive, or just walk, some will say), in many cases and with the proper considerations, pregnant women can drive just fine.
We asked Dr. Rallie McAllister of Lexington, KY, an MD, MPH, family physician, and coauthor of The Mommy MD Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, for her advice to pregnant women who want to keep their future bundles of joy safe, but also need (or want) to continue driving throughout their pregnancy.
Note: Dr. McAllister’s advice, which follows, is helpful combination of measured caution and practical advice, but we want to remind readers that as with any pregnancy-related issue, women should check with their OB-GYN for the final word.
Quoted: What should a pregnant woman know about getting behind the wheel throughout her pregnancy?
Dr. McAllister: Healthy pregnant women don’t have to curtail their driving, but they should be especially careful, now that they’re ‘driving for two.’ In the second trimester of pregnancy, a woman’s chances of being in a multi-vehicle accident (while driving) serious enough to warrant an emergency department visit were 42 percent higher than in the entire three years before she became pregnant, according to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Fortunately, by the third trimester, the risk is significantly lower than it was before her pregnancy.
It’s not entirely clear why the risk of car accidents among pregnant women drivers appears to spike in the second trimester, but it could be related to fatigue, mental distraction, or the physiological changes related to pregnancy.
Quoted: Do you have any tips for how pregnant women can make driving easier?
Dr. McAllister: Your body is changing almost daily, so check your seat position, and the position of your mirrors before you drive. If you find that you need to empty your bladder frequently, don’t forget to use the restroom before you get on the road.
Quoted: In the unfortunate event that a pregnant woman is in a collision (at any point in her pregnancy) what should she do?
Dr. McAllister: It’s likely that paramedics responding to a car accident will load a pregnant woman up and take her to the nearest emergency department. Don’t argue! It’s definitely in your best interest, and in the best interest of your baby. Even if you don’t have any obvious injuries, it’s important to get you and your baby checked out.
Quoted: Is it unsafe for pregnant women to sit near airbags or use seat belts at any point in their pregnancy?
Dr. McAllister: For pregnant women involved in traffic accidents, the impact of an airbag does not seem to raise the risks of most pregnancy complications, according to the results of a study published in the January 2010 issue of the American Journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. According to the study, pregnant women should always wear a lap-shoulder belt, with the lap belt sitting across the hip bones—below the belly—and the shoulder strap across the center of the chest. It’s also recommended that pregnant women keep their seat positioned as far back from the dashboard as possible when they’re in the passenger’s seat, and as far back as they can without jeopardizing control of the vehicle when driving.
The combination of seat belts and airbags offers the best level of protection to pregnant women, just as it does for other adults, and the benefits definitely appear to outweigh the risks. Moms to be should follow the same basic air bag safety precautions as other adults: maintain a proper seating position, move the seat as far back as possible, and ensure they are properly belted—every trip, every time.
Quoted: How should pregnant women wear seat belts?
Dr. McAllister: When buckling up, a pregnant woman should:
- Adjust the lap belt across the hips/pelvis and below the belly–never place the lap belt above or on the belly.
- Place the shoulder belt across the chest (between the breasts) and away from the neck.
- Never place the shoulder belt behind the back or under an arm.
Women late in pregnancy may not be able to position their larger bellies away from the steering wheel as easily as women in earlier stages of pregnancy. If your car has a tilt steering wheel, make sure the steering wheel is tilted toward your breastbone, rather than your belly or your head.
More seat belt safety info can be found at Safercar.gov.
Driving safety tips from Dr. McAllister:
- As always, it’s important to minimize distractions while driving. Turn off your cell phone so you won’t be tempted to glance at an incoming text or phone call.
- Remind yourself to pay attention to driving, even though there’s a lot on your mind, and especially a lot of exciting things to think about right now.
- Allow more time for driving so you don’t have to drive faster than you should.
- If you’re having morning sickness, wait until it passes before you climb behind the wheel.
- If you’re excessively tired or sleepy, don’t drive!
Quoted: And when you bring that beautiful bundle home, how long should the baby remain in a rear-facing car seat?
Dr. McAllister: Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommend driving with children facing backward until they reach the maximum height and weight for the seat according to the manufacturer. For most children, this means they should remain in a rear-facing car seat until they’re at least two or three years old.