Traffic Crashes Are Very Risky for Expectant Moms. Here’s Why & What to Do After a Wreck If You’re Pregnant
As many as 5,000 babies in utero are lost each year when pregnant mothers are involved in car accidents (source: NCBI). Tragically, that number does not count the permanent injuries to the babies who survive and suffer long-term impairments due to pregnancy complications or premature birth after a crash.
Whether you or someone you love is pregnant, it’s important to understand the unique risks motor vehicle accidents present to unborn babies and their moms. If you do, you can take the right steps to help protect moms, pregnancies, and babies in utero whenever you hit the roads — and whenever crashes happen.
Car Accidents & Pregnancy: The Statistics
The latest statistics reveal just how often how car accidents are hurting pregnant women and their babies (source: CDC):
Motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of injury and death for pregnant women.
Traffic crashes are a leading cause of trauma-related death for babies in utero.
Up to 3% of babies born live have been involved in a car accident while in utero.
About 2% of women say they were involved in a traffic crash during their most recent pregnancy.
Women with the highest incidence of crash injuries during pregnancy are those under the age of 20 (pregnant teenagers).
Fetal outcomes are typically tied to maternal outcomes, with good outcomes for the mom usually resulting in good outcomes for babies when crashes occur. However, there are some cases in which pregnant women have minor to no injuries while the baby has been seriously injured.
How Car Accidents Injure Pregnant Women
Beyond some of the more common injuries that anyone could suffer in a car accident — like traumatic brain injury (TBI) or soft tissue injuries — expecting mothers are at risk of sustaining some unique injuries that could harm them and/or their babies. Most often, these car accident injuries for pregnant women include (source: NCBI):
Placental abruption: This refers to the separation of the placenta from the uterine wall, interfering with a baby’s oxygen and nutrient supply. It’s the single most common cause of fetal death resulting from car accidents. While about 1 to 5% of minor auto wrecks during pregnancy cause placental abruption, anywhere from 20 to 50% of severe car accidents during pregnancy result in this injury. Placental abruption is most likely to affect women who are in or past their 5th month of pregnancy, and this injury most often occurs when pregnant women are not wearing seatbelts at the time of a crash.
Uterine injury: It’s rare for pregnant women to suffer uterine injuries in car accidents. However, when they do, the death rate for babies in utero is nearly 100%. On the slim chances babies survive after a uterine injury, there are almost always complications with the pregnancy. These uterine injuries can include uterine ruptures, uterine lacerations, placental abruption, and complete uterine transection.
Direct fetal injury: Babies in utero are directly injured in about 10% of car accidents involving pregnant women. When direct fetal injuries occur, babies’ heads are most likely to suffer injuries, as their heads are the biggest part of their bodies (i.e., the biggest “target” for injury). Direct fetal injuries are most likely to occur when mothers suffer uterine ruptures or pelvic fractures — and when pregnant women were not properly wearing 3-point seatbelts when traffic wrecks happen.
Premature birth: Car accidents can trigger contractions. Sometimes, medications may stop early contractions to prevent early deliveries. When that’s not possible, babies may be born prematurely. Premature birth can result in low birth weight and respiratory problems (because the baby’s lungs aren’t fully developed). In the worst cases, it could leave infants with permanent disabilities.
Stillbirths: Pregnant women in car accidents can have stillborn infants even without displaying any uterus, placental, or fetal injuries from a crash.
Are Any Seats in a Car Safer or Riskier for Pregnant Women?
The driver’s seat, front passenger seat, and rear seats — none of these areas is significantly safer or riskier for pregnant women when a crash happens IF they are wearing a 3-point seatbelt properly. In fact, proper seatbelt use is one of the BEST measures pregnant women can take to protect themselves and their babies whenever they’re driving or riding in vehicles.
Remarkably, researchers have also discovered that (source: NCBI):
Not wearing a seatbelt greatly increases the risk of injury to pregnant mothers and babies in low severity car accidents, which comprise about 95% of all traffic collisions.
In near side crashes (i.e., side-impact wrecks on the same side of the vehicle as a pregnant woman sits), seatbelt use IS effective at protecting pregnant mothers, reducing their risk of adverse outcomes. This is significant because, in general, seatbelts are less effective in preventing injuries in near-side car accidents.
Are Airbags Unsafe for Pregnant Women?
No. Airbags have been found to be safe for use during pregnancy, and they have not been found to be the primary cause of car accident injuries to expecting mothers and babies (source: NCBI).
That’s why transportation safety authorities and researchers recommend that pregnant women do NOT disable airbags. Instead, they should wear 3-point seatbelts properly and keep airbags activated so they can deploy if or when a collision occurs.
What to Do If You’re in a Car Accident While Pregnant: 4 Steps
If you are pregnant and you’re in a car accident, here are the most important steps to take after the crash. Doing these things can help you and your unborn baby after a car accident.
1. Get medical care ASAP.
Even if the car accident seemed minor — and even if you don’t feel hurt — seek medical attention as soon as possible. Get medical care at the scene or go to the hospital ASAP. You may not immediately present symptoms, and a baby could be injured even if you feel OK.
So, don’t risk it, and don’t wait to get checked out. The sooner any injuries are discovered, the sooner they can be treated. That can lead to better outcomes. In some cases, it could make the difference between life and death.
2. Continue receiving all the medical care you need.
Don’t skip any prescribed or follow-up treatments after you receive emergency care. If you need to step up doctors’ appointments due to new pregnancy complications, do what your doctors tell you and get all of the care you and your baby need.
Ongoing medical care can improve the prognoses if you and/or your baby were hurt in a car accident. It can also create detailed documentation of the injuries, which could be important for a future car accident claim.
3. Keep everything
Pictures, police accident reports, doctors’ bills, insurance company letters and emails — anything you have related to the car accident should be kept. These items may be critical to determining:
Fault for the crash and the legal options for financial recovery
Fair damages, based on the injuries and losses caused by the car accident
What needs to happen next to pursue a claim and hold the at-fault parties liable
4. Talk to a car accident lawyer
You may have various options for seeking compensation and justice after being hurt in a car accident while pregnant. An attorney can explain your options, answer your questions, and advise you on how to move forward. That can help you take the right steps when it’s time to recover.