It isn't always easy to drive when you're reaching for the steering wheel around the 25-pound obstacle your belly has become. Most women continue driving until the end of their pregnancies. However, studies have shown that expectant mothers are more apt to be involved in car accidents than women who aren't pregnant. Researchers believe this probably has something to do with driving under the influence of pregnancy hormones, which can make you feel dizzy, fatigued, nauseous, or unfocused. Although driving is safe for most women even in the last weeks of pregnancy, this is a good time to take extra safety precautions:
- Wear a seat belt with a shoulder harness. Fasten the seat belt snugly beneath your belly and adjust the shoulder belt so that it doesn't rub against your neck. If you're in a car accident during your 3rd trimester, the added weight of your baby will give you greater forward momentum, so you'll fare better in a fender bender if you're buckled in.
- Follow the "stop, stretch, and stroll" rule, which is appropriate throughout pregnancy. That means taking frequent breaks to wake yourself up with a brisk walk, refocus your concentration, and use a restroom.
- Drive before or after rush hour, rather than through the thick of things. Fewer cars on the road around you mean fewer possibilities for mishaps behind the wheel.
- If you are in a car accident, your baby will probably be fine; infants are well protected within the muscular uterus and amniotic fluid. The main risk posed by any sort of car accident is separation of the placenta, which might cause you to experience vaginal bleeding, severe pain, or contractions. Even if you do not experience these symptoms, call your doctor. She'll examine you, monitor your baby's heartbeat, and may even do an ultrasound to confirm that all is well. If you had a direct trauma to your belly and are Rh-negative, you may also need a shot of Rhogam.
- Move the seat back, put a small pillow between your belly and the seat belt, and adjust the headrest so that you're as comfortable as possible while driving.
- Stay close to home. If you're going to travel more than 30 miles from home, take a cell phone and a companion with you.
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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