Seat Belts Save Lives — Even Unborn Ones

Pregnant women wearing seat belts did better after car accidents than unrestrained pregnant women

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) It may seem inconvenient to get a seat belt around your belly while you're pregnant. But during pregnancy, wearing a seat belt is even more important if you're in an accident.

A recent study found more pregnant women who weren't wearing their seat belts in car accidents required surgery, compared to women who had been safely strapped in.

A higher percentage of women not wearing seat belts also lost their babies than women who had been wearing seat belts.

This study noted that motor vehicle accidents are the most common traumatic cause of fetus deaths during pregnancy.

"Always wear your seat belt."

The study, led by Tomas Luley, DO, of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, looked at the use of seat belts among pregnant women and their outcomes in car accidents.

The researchers used the medical records at the Duke Trauma Registry to find all women who had been more than 14 weeks pregnant, had been in a car accident and were treated in the emergency room and in the obstetric unit.

A total of 126 women were identified for the time period from January 1994 through December 2010. From the information available, 112 of these women had been wearing their seat belts and 13 had not.

The researchers looked at what kinds of injuries the women had, how many weeks pregnant they were when they delivered their babies and how the deliveries went.

No patterns or differences were found related to women's age or race in terms of whether they had been wearing a seat belt at the time of the car accident.

However, those who were not wearing a seat belt were less likely to have had any children by that point.

Six women lost their babies while pregnant due to the car accident. Three women had been wearing their seat belt, so 3.5 percent of those wearing their seat belt lost their babies.

Three of these women who lost their babies had not been wearing their seat belt, but this was equivalent to 25 percent of the women not wearing their seat belt, as there were far fewer of them than the women wearing seat belts.

Therefore, a much higher percentage of women not wearing seat belts lost their babies compared to the percentage of women wearing their seat belts.

Women who had not been wearing their seat belts were more likely to need surgery related to their car accident injuries, but the surgery was not related to their pregnancy.

None of the women wearing their seat belts had been ejected from the car, but three (23 percent) of those not wearing seat belts had been ejected from the car.

Of all the women studied, 6 percent experienced "placental abruption." This is a condition in which the placenta (the food source for the baby) peels away from the inner wall of the uterus before the baby is born.

There was no apparent link between wearing a seat belt and experiencing placental abruption, but there was a link between this condition and air bags.

In 17 of the accidents, the air bags were deployed. Four of the seven women who had placental abruption (57 percent) were in the cars where the air bags deployed.

"In this review, unrestrained women were significantly more likely to experience a perinatal death after an motor vehicle accident," the researchers wrote. "This is an important safety issue that has a direct relationship to overall obstetric outcome."

Among those wearing their seat belts, 54 percent experienced abdominal pain following the accident, compared to 73 percent of the women who had not been wearing a seat belt.

"Seatbelts, airbags, and car seats are proven to save lives," said Chris Galloway, MD, a dailyRx expert specializing in emergency medicine.

"Wearing a seatbelt during pregnancy is proven to save the lives of both mom and baby," he said. "Always wear your seat belt, no excuses."  

It's also important to wear the belt correctly, he said.

"The lap belt should fit below your pregnant belly and snug across your hip bones," Dr. Galloway said. "The shoulder belt should always be worn and fit snugly between the breasts and not against the neck. Take the extra few seconds to protect yourself and your baby inside."

This study was published in the June issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

No information regarding outside funding was provided. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
June 27, 2013
Last Updated:
September 6, 2013