An expectant mother is diligent about staying healthy and protecting her unborn baby through a balanced diet, moderate exercise, and good medical care. However, even when a mother follows the right steps during pregnancy, accidents can happen. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) reports that car accidents account for half of all traumatic events that pregnant women experience. Car collisions can cause serious health complications for the unborn child and mother. Being in a car accident while pregnant is an incredibly frightening experience for any woman. Knowing what to do after a motor vehicle accident can help the mother-to-be remain calm and collected and keep the baby safe.
Car Accidents and Risks to the Unborn Baby
Research on the subject varies, but approximately 300 to 5,000 pregnancies are lost due to car accidents every year in the United States. The exact number is difficult to pinpoint because around 10 to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriages in the first trimester. Only fatalities among fetuses over 20 weeks old are required to be recorded. Unborn babies and pregnant mothers who survive motor vehicle accidents are at risk of a host of health problems, including:
Placental Abruption: The placenta is an organ that attaches to the uterus during pregnancy, and it supplies oxygen and nutrients to the baby. Placental abruption is a rare but serious complication where the placenta partly or fully detaches from the uterine wall. When it is not treated immediately, placental abruption can deprive the unborn baby of vital nutrition and oxygen.
Uterine Rupture: While this condition affects less than one percent of pregnant women, it can be life-threatening to the baby when it does happen. This is a tear in the uterus that allows the baby to slip down into the mother’s abdomen. Uterine rupture causes severe maternal bleeding that can potentially drown the baby. Women who had previous cesarean section surgeries are more prone to uterine ruptures.
Direct Fetal Injuries: When these injuries occur, they are incredibly serious. Since the head is the largest part of the developing fetus, trauma to that area is most common. It is suspected that head trauma occurs because a baby’s head becomes compressed between the mother’s body and the seat belt or steering wheel upon impact.
Maternal Shock: An unborn baby is especially vulnerable when the pregnant mother goes into shock. In fact, the fetal mortality rate with maternal shock is a staggering 80 percent. When the woman’s body suffers extreme fluid or blood loss, the heart struggles to pump sufficient blood throughout the body. The body directs blood away from the extremities and non-essential organs to maintain life. In this circumstance, the baby is assessed as non-essential and is deprived of vital blood flow that is needed to sustain life.
Emergency Premature Delivery After a Car Accident
Even if the fetus survives, emergency delivery of a baby that has not reached full-term may be necessary. Prematurity comes with its own set of immediate risks to the baby, including:
- Apnea and other breathing problems
- Low blood pressure and other heart problems
- Bleeding in the brain
- Low body weight
- Low body temperature
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Anemia, jaundice, and other blood problems
- Weak immune system
Most of these are short-term issues that will resolve once the baby reaches their original due date. However, premature babies can also experience long-term issues that follow them through infancy and childhood. Long-term complications of premature birth include:
- Vision problems
- Hearing problems
- Learning disabilities
- Behavioral and psychological challenges
- Chronic health issues
Considerations for Pregnant Women While Driving
The biggest problem that poses a risk to a pregnant woman and their unborn baby is the steering wheel. The larger a mother’s stomach grows, the closer it is to the steering wheel, as well as the airbag module. While the seat belt is designed to restrain passengers from hitting the steering wheel, dash, or seat in front of them, its positioning also poses a risk to pregnant women.
Seat belts have yet to be redesigned in a way that protects the fetus. There are some products on the market that redirect the seat belt away from the stomach, but they do not prevent impact with the steering wheel during a collision. Expectant parents should discuss driving while pregnant and other risks with their obstetrician.
When Should I Seek Medical Attention?
After any accident that involves a pregnant woman, regardless of how minor it may seem, it is important to call 911 for help. Signs that a mother or baby is in distress include:
- Chills or fever
- Painful or urgent urination
- Vaginal bleeding
- Abdominal pain
- Severe headache
- Swelling in the mother’s extremities
- Confusion, dizziness, loss of consciousness
Even if the mother is not showing signs of distress, a visit to the emergency room or a health care provider is always recommended to ensure the baby is safe and healthy.
Safety Tips for Driving While Pregnant
Some women chose to reduce driving as much as possible during their pregnancy. Yet, for many other pregnant women, avoiding driving altogether is not feasible. The following are some driving tips for expectant mothers:
- Never drive when sick. Nausea and dizziness are common, especially in the first trimester of pregnancy. Women who feel sick, or are prone to passing out, should absolutely wait until they feel better, or consider getting a ride with a friend or family member.
- Position the seat strategically. A pregnant driver should move their seat as far away from the steering wheel as possible and tilt the steering wheel up toward the breastbone and away from the stomach.
- Buckle up safely. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends expectant mothers always wear both a lap and shoulder belt, with the lower strap placed under the stomach and across the thighs.
- Consider being a passenger. Riding as a passenger eliminates the risk of contact with the steering wheel. Out of all the spots in the vehicle, the center middle seat is the safest.
Steps to Take After a Motor Vehicle Accident
An expectant mother should do the following steps after a collision:
Call for Help
As previously mentioned, after an accident, the top priority is to make sure the mother and child are stable. Call 911 for emergency assistance. If the accident is minor, contact the police using the non-emergency line. A dispatcher should be notified that a pregnant woman was involved in the accident.
Get Medical Care
If the expectant mother is not transported directly to the emergency room at the scene of the crash, she should schedule an appointment with her doctor as soon as possible. After a doctor visit, a pregnant woman should watch out for pain, bleeding, or leaking fluid in the hours and days after the crash. Always call the doctor with any concerns.
Contact a Lawyer
Accidents involving pregnant women are more complex than routine claims because there are two lives involved. A pregnant woman should consult with a lawyer after an accident. The lawyer can work to reach a fair settlement based on any injuries, medical bills, and other losses.
Beyond the physical and emotional trauma after a serious car accident, a pregnant woman can incur significant expenses as well. Premature delivery, extended hospital stays, and neonatal care are all quite costly. A family injured in a car crash may have cause to bring a claim for damages as well.
Delaware Car Accident Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC Advocate for Mothers with Car Accident Injuries
Our Delaware car accident lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC help families after devastating collisions. For a free consultation, call us at 302-888-1221 or contact us online today. Located in Wilmington, Delaware, we serve clients throughout the state, including Dover, Middletown, and Newark.