Pregnant mothers worry about anything and everything that could possibly harm their unborn baby. From the negative effects of microwave radiation and a hot bath to the toxic chemicals in hair products and nail polish, expectant women obsess over every little detail that might affect the proper development of their unborn child. However, only a few seem to worry about one activity that sends an alarming number of preggos to the E.R. each year: driving.
A study by Donald Redelmeier, M.D., M.S.H.S.R., F.R.C.P.C., F.A.C.P., senior scientist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Canada, found that pregnancy appears to be directly associated with an increase in car-crash risk. Dr. Redelmeier and his team scoured through the medical records of 500,000 mothers and found that the risk of pregnant women figuring in a car accident increased to 42 percent during the second trimester. The team believes this is due to (1) the increased pressure on expectant moms to get everything done at work and at home before the baby is due; (2) pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, stress, and dizziness; and (3) bouts of insomnia , which could result in driver error.
"We don't think women should relinquish driving and assign it to their partners, [though]," says Dr. Redelmeier, who believes pregnant women should be made more aware that they might not be functioning at 100 percent, so they need to be more cautious when driving. A few changes in driver behavior and additional safety precautions could save them a trip to the E.R.
Before you hit the road with your precious cargo, go through this list of reminders to keep you and your unborn baby safe while you're driving.
1. Assess and assign. Before leaving your home or your office, you should first assess if you're fit to drive. Are you having bouts of dizziness or feeling nauseated? Did you get ample sleep last night? Can you concentrate on the road despite the aching back or swollen calves and feet? These are some questions you need to answer before you get behind the wheel. If you feel that you're in no condition to concentrate on the road, assign driving duties to your partner or another family member instead.
2. Plan your trip. ... especially if you are going somewhere for the first time. Ask for directions in advance, get traffic updates, plot your route using a reliable road map, and learn important details such as designated U-turn slots, one-way road signs, and local ordinances applicable to the roads you'll be traversing. Unexpected hassles on the road may cause stress and fatigue (which could in turn affect concentration) in pregnant moms. "It would also be wise for pregnant women to avoid driving in conditions that might increase stress, such as bad weather," advises Arrive Alive, an organization in Canada that promotes road safety.
3. Bring a pregnant driver's kit. This should include a bottle of water and the necessary medications. Ford Philippines also advises bringing other important papers containing your medical information, test results, and emergency contact information (e.g., your partner, your OB-gyn, or a family member sho can sssist you in case of a trip to the E.R.). Also bring a properly-labeled health card (with accompanying papers) if you have one.
4. Fasten your seatbelt properly. Some expectant moms worry that wearing a seatbelt could injure the unborn baby when the driver steps on the brakes abruptly. However, researchers argue that it is much safer for both the mother and the baby in her womb if she wears a seatbelt properly. According to Ford Philippines, the lapbelt should be placed securely under the bump and not over it (i.e., across the lower part of the abdomen, over the thighs). The torso belt should run snugly between the breasts down the side of the driver's body. Also avoid wearing bulky clothes to make sure the seatbelt is as close to the body as possible.
5. Never turn off the airbags. This is according to RoadDriver, a U.K.-based online driving community. If you're scared of injuring your baby in case of airbag deployment, you can make necessary adjustments to your seat: Move your seat back, and recline it slightly to create more space between the steering wheel and your tummy. Just make sure that you can still operate the pedals properly.
6. Take short breaks, especially during long trips. Leave the house earlier so you can squeeze in a few breaks. Ford Philippines suggests taking regular breaks to increase blood flow to your feet. Park at a gas station, grab a snack, drink water, stretch your legs (to also avoid cramping), and move your ankles and toes. You can also use this time to rest your eyes for a bit (to avoid dizziness and nausea) and decompress, especially if you're dealing with rush-hour traffic.
This article first appeared in the April 2015 issue of Smart Parenting magazine.