(As reported 2/26/99)
Expectant mothers who drive may not be wearing their seat belts properly, according to a new study.
Each year, between 1,500 and 5,000 fetal losses are estimated to occur as a result of automobile crashes.
While many women are afraid to wear a seat belt out of concern that the pressure of the restraint will somehow injure the fetus, some simple adjustments can safely accommodate women during pregnancy, reports CBS News Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay.
Researchers at the University of Michigan followed 22 women for the full term of their pregnancies and looked at how they sat behind the steering wheel, as well as how they wore their seat belts as the pregnancy progressed.
They found that the fetuses of short women - 5' 2" and below - tend to be at greater risk of being injured if there is an accident. That's because shorter drivers tend to sit further forward and closer to the steering wheel to reach the pedals. Researchers suggest that these women have pedal extenders installed so they can drive safely, with the seat further back and away from the wheel.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration recommends that all pregnant women position lap belts below the abdomen and across the pelvis. They should never rest across the abdomen, but should be placed below the belly. The upper portion of the shoulder harness should be worn across the shoulders and between the breasts, as usual.
The study also suggested that, if they have the option not to drive, women in their last trimester are safer if they sit in the passenger's seat with their seat belts on.
In a crash, the pressure of the seat belt may briefly squeeze the baby in the amniotic sac. However, there's no evidence that safety belts increase the chance of injury to the baby if there's a crash. The mother's body provides many cushions to protect her baby. Bones, muscles, organs and amniotic fluid that surround the baby soften the blow.
Reported By Dr. Emily Senay
Copyright 1999 CBS. All rights reserved.