Research reveals risk of incorrect seat belt use

Nearly half of pregnant women put their unborn babies at risk due to wearing seat belts wrongly, finds research.

Commissioned by UK child safety experts Clippasafe the research reveals that 45.9% of women, when asked whether they knew of the correct way to wear a seat belt while pregnant, said no.

It also found that almost a fifth (19.4%) of women said they sometimes chose not to wear a seat belt at all during pregnancy because of the discomfort.

The research established that 80% found wearing a seatbelt uncomfortable during pregnancy.

The in-depth survey on car safety during pregnancy was completed by 500 mothers of various ages with children aged 15 or younger.

Despite 92% of the women showing an understanding of rear facing baby seat safety and the dangers of airbags, there was obvious confusion over seat belt safety during pregnancy.

Fetal injury or miscarriage are common when pregnant women are involved in even minor vehicle collisions.

Official NHS guidance tells women to position the lap portion of the seat belt under the bump. But almost half of women were unaware of this advice and did not realise the danger that an incorrectly positioned seat belt poses to an unborn child.

Mervi Jokinen, RCM Professional Advisor, said: ‘The results of this research have been combined with findings from a similar study in 2014, and the RCM welcomes the role of this type of research in highlighting the importance of wearing a seatbelt correctly in pregnancy.

‘NHS Choices advises women to wear their seatbelt with the cross strap between their breasts and the lap strap across their pelvis under their bump, not across bump and the RCM supports this advice.

‘If in any doubt about this women should speak to their midwife who will be able to offer further advice and support.

‘The research also shows that getting enough rest in pregnancy is hugely important, not just for the woman and baby’s wellbeing, but also for the mother’s safety when driving. It is very easy to become over-tired when pregnant and we would encourage women to have regular rest breaks if possible.’

Dr Karen Joash, consultant obstetrician at the Imperial College NHS Trust and provider of private maternity care at the Portland Hospital and the Lindo Wing at St Mary’s Hospital, said that incorrectly positioned seat belts in pregnancy can lead to a deceleration injury where the strap has contact.

‘This is similar to being struck across the bump with extreme force and pressure. Major injuries can lead to the waters breaking too early.

‘It can also result in placental injuries leading to bleeding and early placental separation, reducing the oxygen supply and, in extreme injuries, unfortunately the death of the unborn baby,’ she said.

Combined with research undertaken by the University of Toronto in 2014, the survey results paint a worrying picture.

Published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the research studied 500,000 pregnancies in the Ontario area over a five-year period and showed that female drivers in their second trimester of pregnancy are 42% more likely to be involved in a multi-vehicle collision.

The research suggests the increase could be due to cognitive lapses that occur during pregnancy as well as fatigue, sleep deprivation and nausea.

Dr Joash advised expectant mothers to look for ways to make the belt more comfortable and reduce the danger to unborn babies by keeping it in the right place.

Read the full research study here.

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