With 5 514 fatal car accidents on South African roads from November 2011 to March 2012 alone (Arrive Alive), road safety should be at the forefront of every mother’s mind. While car seats on the backseat of your car protect baby and toddler, protecting the baby in your belly is not that straightforward.
The rule of thumb is that everything that protects you will best protect your unborn child. The more injuries you get during a car accident, the greater the risk to your unborn baby. Not using the protective mechanisms at your disposal, like seatbelts and airbags, could put your unborn child at a greater risk for miscarriage, pre-term labour and other serious complications (March of Dimes).
But are they safe?
How can any such direct contact with your belly be good for your baby? According to a recent US study that appeared in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, pregnant women’s worries that seatbelts or airbags could be harmful to their babies are unfounded. The fact is that expectant mothers who are not wearing a seatbelt during a car crash are more likely to lose the baby (Reuters).
To conduct the study, Haywood Brown and his colleagues at Duke University Medical Centre searched through a trauma registry at Duke University Hospital and found 126 cases of women in their second and third trimesters who had been in a car crash and were cared for at the hospital between 1994 and 2010. The results were that three foetuses (3.5%) died among the 86 mothers who were wearing a seatbelt during the accident. Of the 12 mothers who were not wearing a seatbelt, three died, which is 25% in this case.
That said, there are certain precautions you can take while wearing your seatbelt and sitting in front of an activated airbag, that can further help protect your unborn child.
How to wear your seatbelt
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists recommends that seatbelts be worn at all times. It should also be fastened properly. DO NOT wear your seatbelt across or above your belly, as a sudden jolt from the seatbelt can cause the placenta to tear from the uterus, which can be extremely dangerous to both mother and baby.
March of Dimes gives the following tips for wearing seatbelts:
• Always wear both the lap and shoulder belt.
• Buckle the lap strap under your belly and over your hips.
• Never place the lap belt across your belly.
• Rest the shoulder belt between your breasts and off to the side of your belly.
• Never place the shoulder belt under your arm.
• If possible, adjust the shoulder belt height to fit you correctly.
• Make sure the seatbelt fits snugly.
In the study, Brown said that some women disarmed the airbag as they were worried that it would harm the baby in a crash, but “it’s not the smart thing to do because it will save your life if the airbag comes out.” You should always have the airbags turned on. Note: this is only an additional precaution to wearing a seatbelt. When airbags open without you wearing your seatbelt, you and your baby could get seriously hurt. While in the driver’s seat, you should set your seat as far as possible from the dashboard and steering wheel.
Get yourself checked out
In the unfortunate event of an accident, you should ALWAYS get yourself checked by a doctor, even if you feel fine.