Pregnancy causes a wide range of physical and mental changes that affect automotive safety and create special risks in the event of a car accident. Even low-impact crashes can be dangerous for an expectant woman and her unborn child, requiring special medical care and potentially creating unusual legal challenges for damages and settlements. Here is everything you need to know about what to do if you are in a car accident during pregnancy.
Why is Being Involved in a Car Accident While Pregnant Dangerous?
Trauma during pregnancy is the leading non-obstetrical cause of maternal death and adverse fetal outcomes, and motor vehicle crashes are the most frequent cause of blunt force trauma during pregnancy. Being involved in a car accident while pregnant is dangerous because there is not just one life at stake, but two.
Unfortunately, the very safety equipment that protects us most in the event of an auto collision can be the same equipment that poses a threat to a pregnant woman and her child. The traditional three-point seat belt is the best way to prevent serious injuries in a car crash, but it was not designed for pregnant women and can cause sudden dramatic pressure and trauma for an unborn fetus.
Despite specific cases of airbag injuries, the most recent guidance is that airbags are safer for a pregnant woman and her unborn child than driving with airbags disabled. Using standard crash safety equipment like airbags and seatbelts are proven to protect the life of the mother in the event of an accident, and improves outcomes for unborn children.
Common Injuries from Car Accidents During Pregnancy
Statistically, a woman in her second trimester of pregnancy is at a significantly higher risk of having a car accident that requires an emergency room visit. Being in a car accident during pregnancy can cause:
- Placental abruption. Placental abruption is a complication where the placenta separates from the wall of the uterus, decreasing the supply of food and oxygen to the baby, and causing internal bleeding in the mother. Symptoms are especially severe during the third trimester.
- Preterm labor and delivery. Preterm labor and premature delivery can have a wide range of long-lasting health effects on a child.
- Uterine rupture. Uterine rupture is a tearing of the uterus during pregnancy, potentially expelling the baby into the abdominal cavity. It is a life-threatening complication for both mother and child.
- Pelvic fracture. Breaking the pelvic bone is rare, but extremely serious. It is associated with a 9% maternal and 35% fetal mortality rate.
In addition to these serious complications, being in a car accident while pregnant can have a wide range of other negative consequences. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Emotional trauma can impact your unborn child. A number of studies indicate that maternal stress and anxiety can negatively affect an unborn child. Maternal stress is linked to earlier childbirth, slower fetal neural development, and a higher number of birth complications.
- There might be other physical effects of a car accident on a fetus. The truth is, car accidents are volatile and unpredictable in their severity and effects and can impact a mother and child in very different ways depending on the nature of the impact and the stage of pregnancy. There are tragic cases where an unborn child suffered an intrauterine brain injury and hemorrhage after a car accident where the mother was unharmed, and millions of car accidents with no serious consequences at all.
What Should You Do if You’re in a Low-Impact Car Accident While Pregnant?
If you or anyone else is injured in a car accident in Texas, call 911 immediately. If you have been in a crash and are unable to move your vehicle out of the road, suspect that the other driver is under the influence, or the other driver leaves the scene, call the police.
If you are pregnant and have been in a low-impact car accident, and do not immediately seem to be injured, follow these steps:
- Take a breath. It is normal for the adrenaline of a car crash to make you feel uncertain and jittery. Take a moment to try to calm yourself and pay attention to your body. If possible, call someone to come support you.
- Note what happened to you during the accident. If you experienced sudden strong pressure on your chest, abdomen, or pelvis due to a seatbelt or airbag, or if anything about your belly or baby seems unusual, go to the emergency room. If necessary, call 911 or explain to attending police officers that you need to leave the scene.
- Call your obstetrician’s office. If you feel normal and healthy after the accident, call your OB or an advice nurse and explain what happened. Your own adrenaline may be masking symptoms that may manifest later, so seek and follow medical advice.
- Be mindful of your symptoms. In the days after an accident, be especially attentive for signs of complications. Call your OB or midwife if you notice a decrease in the baby’s movements, vaginal bleeding or fluid leaking, cramping, or abdominal pain.
- Take care of yourself. Dealing with the aftermath of even a minor accident can be frustrating and stressful. Try to get good sleep, and maintain a healthy diet and activity levels. Seek support from friends and loved ones, and consult with an attorney if you have had car accident damages.
How to Keep Your Unborn Baby Safe When Driving
Inevitably, expecting mothers will find themselves having to drive. Here is the best way to drive safely while pregnant:
- Wear your seatbelt correctly. Use a three-point seat belt, and position the lap band beneath your stomach, across your lap. Make sure the shoulder strap crosses your shoulder and down the center of your chest.
- Adjust your car seat. Chances are good that you have already needed to move the driver’s seat back to accommodate your pregnancy. Move the driver’s seat back as far as possible, while still having easy reach and access to control the vehicle.
- Adjust your steering wheel. If you can do so comfortably, adjust your steering wheel to an upward angle, so it is not in line with your stomach.
- Don’t drive distracted. Pregnancy causes nausea, back and neck pain, the need to visit the bathroom frequently, mood shifts, and other mental and physical changes that can make it hard to concentrate on the road. If you don’t feel mentally or physically focused, try to avoid driving.
Q: Can a car accident impact your pregnancy?
A: A car accident may have a tremendous impact on your pregnancy, and is the leading cause of non-obstetrical maternal death and pregnancy complications. Especially in the second trimester, a pregnant woman is at a much higher risk for serious car accidents that can affect the health of both mother and baby.
Q: Can an airbag harm a fetus in an accident?
A: There are cases where the trauma of an airbag impact has harmed a fetus during a car accident. However, these cases are extremely rare, and it has been proven that using airbags is far more protective for a mother and an unborn baby in the case of an accident. While no safety measures are 100% effective, airbags are a safe way to reduce accident injuries to the mother, which helps protect the infant.
Q: Can a seatbelt harm a fetus in a car accident?
A: A seatbelt can harm a fetus in a car accident, especially when the belt is worn high across the belly, rather than beneath the stomach and across the hips. Like airbags, the few cases where unborn babies have been injured by seat belts are far outweighed by the many cases in which they have saved lives and protected vehicle occupants. It is far safer for a pregnant woman to wear a seatbelt.
Why You Should Hire a Lawyer
Even a low-impact car accident can be stressful, and when you are pregnant, the consequences can be much more severe. It is almost always best to visit a doctor and check up on yourself and your baby, which incurs medical costs the insurance company may be unwilling to pay. An auto accident insurance company may claim that these costs should be paid by health insurance, and are not related to the accident.
If you have been in a car accident while pregnant in Texas, and have been offered a settlement that does not fully compensate you for all your damages, you should consult with an attorney who will explain your rights and legal options. Some of the effects of a car accident may take time to manifest, and if you accept a quick settlement, you waive your rights to make claims in the future. The legal team Johnson Garcia is passionate about fighting for your rights and will be on your side to ensure you and your unborn baby get everything you are entitled to.