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Friday, January 15, 2010

Should Pregnant Women Wear Seat Belts

Driving school instructors hear the question all the time; isn't it dangerous for a pregnant woman to wear a seat belt? The feeling is that the belt itself, being so tight and close to the unborn baby, could cause more harm than not wearing a seat belt at all. The answer is that, no matter what, wearing a seat belt is always the safest possible thing a mother can do. Both the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) agree that pregnant women should always wear seat belts.

To fully answer the question, one has to consider the alternative to wearing a seat belt. It's a simple matter of physics. In a crash, the unbelted occupants of a car will continue to travel at the speed the car was traveling at the point of impact. Even in a low speed crash, the bodies traveling forward and striking objects in front can do a tremendous amount of damage. A small woman who weighs 130 pounds, with the combined weight of her developing baby, striking the steering wheel or dashboard at 25 mph will experience a crash force of almost 3,000 pounds. That is going to do far more damage to your unborn baby than the seat belt.

Future mothers should also consider the possibility that, if unbelted, they could be ejected from the vehicle; striking the roadway with a tremendous amount of force and then, face the possibility of being struck by another vehicle. No matter how bad the crash, vehicle occupants are always better off restrained within the vehicle., the official website of the AAFP, offers the following advice:

How should I wear my seat belt?

The seat belt should be a 3-point restraint. That means it should have a lap strap and a shoulder strap. Lap and shoulder belts keep you from being thrown from the car during an accident. The shoulder strap also keeps the pressure of your body off of the baby after a crash.

Be sure to wear your seat belt correctly. The lap strap should go under your belly, across your hips and as high as possible on your thighs. The shoulder strap should go between your breasts and off to the side of your belly. Seat belt straps should never go directly across your stomach. The seat belt should fit snugly. If possible, adjust the height of the shoulder strap so that it fits you correctly.

What about air bags?

Most experts agree that air bags are safe and can protect pregnant women from head injury. The air bags in your car should not be turned off when you are pregnant. To be safe, you should move the seat back as far as possible and tilt the seat to get some distance between your belly and the steering wheel or dashboard.

Air bags are not a substitute for a seat belt, so always wear your seat belt even if your car has air bags.

Where should I sit if I'm a passenger?

Where a mother sits has not been shown to affect the safety of an unborn baby in a crash. However, if you are not driving, you should sit in the back seat. Injuries from car crashes tend to be less serious in people who are sitting in the back seat. It is still important to wear a seat belt.

What should I do if I am in a car crash?

You should get treatment right away, even if you think you are not hurt. Most injuries to the baby happen within a few hours after a crash. Your doctor needs to check you and your baby as soon as possible after a crash, especially if you are more than 6 months pregnant.

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