Despite some women's worry that seat belts or air bags could harm a baby in-utero in the case of an accident, expectant mothers who are not wearing a
seatbelt during a car crash are more likely to lose the pregnancy than
restrained mothers, according to a new study.
The results reinforce the findings of other studies that link seat belts with
better chances of keeping both mother and baby alive.
"The worst thing you can do is have the mother get hurt, and the best way to
protect the mother and protect the baby is to have the mother wear a seatbelt,"
said Kathleen DeSantis Klinich, a researcher at the University of Michigan
Transportation Research Institute, who was not part of the study.
Thousands of pregnant women are hospitalised each year after motor vehicle
accidents. "One thing we're always concerned about is (educating) patients on
seatbelt use," said Dr Haywood Brown, the chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at
Duke University Medical Center and senior author of the new study.
"Nonetheless, like all individuals, some choose and some do not choose to
wear their seatbelt," he added.
How the study was done
To get a better sense of which women don't use restraints and how that
affects the outcome of their pregnancies, Brown and his colleagues searched
through a trauma registry at Duke University Hospital.
They found 126 cases of women in their second and third trimesters who had
been in a car crash and cared for at the hospital between 1994 and 2010.
Three foetuses - or 3.5% - died among the 86 mothers who were wearing a
seatbelt during the accident. Another three foetuses - 25% in this case - died
among the 12 mothers who were not wearing a seatbelt."
The bottom line is, you've got to wear your restraint because it decreases
the risk not only for your injuries but injury to your child," Brown.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that seat
belts should be worn at all times, and the lap belt should be fitted low across
the hip bones, below the belly.
Women without a seatbelt were more likely to be first-time mothers than those
who wore a seatbelt.
Brown said it's possible that the habit of buckling in children might prompt
mothers to put on their own seatbelt.
Airbags came out in 17 of the accidents, and in those cases the mother was
more likely to experience the placenta separating from the uterus - a condition
that can be fatal for the mother or the foetus.
Airbags there to protect
Catherine Vladutiu, a researcher at the University of North Carolina who was
not involved with this research, said it's likely the airbag itself is not to
blame for such serious consequences.
"I think the airbag is a function of how severe the crash was, so it's hard
to tease out whether that had any direct effect on foetal demise. I would err on
the side of (considering it) an indicator of crash severity," Vladutiu told
Brown said some women will disarm the airbag for fear that it will damage the
baby in case of a crash, but "it's not the smart thing to do because it will
save your life if the airbag comes out."
In her own research, "we found that airbags, if anything, are beneficial
because they help protect the mother," said Klinich.
Another study, from researchers in Washington state, found that airbags did
not increase the risk of most pregnancy-related injuries.
Brown said he's following up on his study with a survey exploring why some
pregnant women don't wear seatbelts, in an effort to identify those women at
risk and help them to change their behaviour.