Should You Drive While Pregnant
Risks of driving while pregnant
Nine and a half times out of 10, driving during pregnancy is totally fine. We’re pretty sure the world would grind to a complete halt, actually, if pregnancy were a disqualifier for getting behind the wheel.
But we need to be real with you: There is a weirdly higher risk associated with driving while pregnant versus not pregnant. A 2014 study suggested that women were 42 percent more likely to become involved in serious car accidents during the second trimester than those who weren’t pregnant.
Yup, only in the second trimester. In the first and third trimesters, the risks were the same as they were outside of pregnancy.
The increased risk also didn’t apply to pregnant people riding in cars as passengers or participating in any other physical activities often connected to injury during pregnancy.
This begs the question — what’s up with that?!
Well, the study’s researchers didn’t look at why this happens, although experts guess it’s your pregnancy hormones to blame (honestly, what else is new?).
In the second trimester, it’s common to be plagued with a whole bunch of super-distracting ills, like fatigue and sleep deprivation, thanks to said hormones. And that could contribute to you being less alert while driving.
Seat belt safety while pregnant
Driving is still considered a fairly safe activity during pregnancy. If you’re going to get behind the wheel, however, you need to protect yourself: You should always wear your seat belt, including when you’re pregnant.
If you wear your seatbelt correctly, there’s little chance of injury to your baby during normal driving and even during road accidents. What little chance there is pales in comparison to the risks of not wearing a seat belt at all.
As far as getting comfortable using a typical three-point seat belt during your pregnancy (and doing it safely), here are a few tips:
Position the lap portion of the belt as far under your belly as possible, not straight across.
Keep the driver’s seat as far back from the steering wheel as you can while still maintaining easy access to important stuff like the brakes, gear shift, and headlights.
Consider adjusting the angle of the steering wheel upward, so the bottom edge of the wheel isn’t directly parallel with your stomach.
Make sure the shoulder portion of the belt is positioned correctly (over your shoulder and down the center of your chest).
If it makes you more comfortable, you might be able to utilize a seat belt positioner when you’re pregnant.
This allows your lap belt to be secured in between your legs — rather than at one side — so it rests on top of your thighs, not under your belly. We recommend checking with your OB-GYN or midwife first, though, to see if this is safe for you.
Now that you know how to drive more safely while pregnant, when should you choose not to drive at all? Here are six scenarios.
- Don’t drive when… you have severe nausea
If your nausea is so bad you can’t get off the couch (or, let’s be honest, the bathroom floor), you shouldn’t be getting behind the wheel.
You thought it was scary to handle an unexpected sneeze while driving? An unexpected barf is way worse. Not to mention the fact that nausea often comes with dizziness and lightheadedness, two more no-no’s for driving while pregnant.
- Don’t drive when… you can’t get in a safe position
You have to push your seat back from the steering wheel so much you can’t reach the brake pedal. You need to tuck the shoulder belt behind you because it’s too tight across your *ahem* newly endowed chest. You have to turn your body semi-sideways to take pressure off your aching right hip.
Whatever the accommodation you’re making, if your pregnancy is forcing you to drive in an unsafe position, you need to quit — at least until you can go back to sitting the way you’re supposed to.
Doing anything else increases your risk for traffic accidents, not to mention bodily injury with even normal driving, like if you need to make a sudden stop.
- Don’t drive when… you can’t make frequent stops
Speaking of sudden stops, don’t get in the car if you won’t be able to schedule a few breaks along the way to your destination.
When you’re pregnant, you’re at a higher risk for something called deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot that often starts in the leg and can move up to your lungs, causing severe and potentially fatal consequences.
The best way to avoid a serious blood clot while driving? Keep that blood flowing, baby, with lots of stretch breaks. And stay hydrated! (Which will also mean frequent potty breaks.)
- Don’t drive when… your pregnancy limits your movement
If you can’t turn around to see your blind spot, you’re gonna have a problem when there’s an actual vehicle in it!
When your belly is enormous, your back pain is raging, or you’re just too darn stiff and awkward to check your mirrors or rotate your upper body from side to side while driving, you should opt out.
- Don’t drive when… you can’t pay extra-close attention to the road
Everybody everywhere should be focusing on the road and only the road while driving.
But this word of warning rings especially true if you’re pregnant: You’re already more susceptible to distraction thanks to nausea, heartburn, insomnia, aches and pains, stress, anxiety, and pregnancy brain.
And distraction makes you extra vulnerable to human error.
If you don’t trust your ability to drive like you’re 16 years old again, with your driving school instructor sitting in the passenger seat ready to judge and criticize your every move, see if you can get a ride from someone else.
- Don’t drive when… you’re in labor
This might sound like a no-brainer, but please do not drive yourself to the hospital or birth center when you’re in labor! It’s just not safe: Even the mildest of contractions can escalate and intensify out of the blue, leaving you incapacitated.
If you’re home alone and your labor comes on fast or you’re panicked about not getting to your birthing location in time while you wait for a ride, call 911 and ask for an ambulance.
Will you feel silly? Probably! But you’ll feel flat-out terrible if you run yourself — or someone else — off the road during a contraction.
Additional driving precautions
Whether you’re the driver or the passenger, getting in a car during pregnancy usually won’t harm you. You should still take some basic precautions, though, to keep yourself extra safe on the road.
Bring snacks and drinks
Pregnancy hanger is real. You don’t want to be caught miles away from home without any way to hydrate and refuel.
If you’re still having morning sickness, keep crackers, ginger ale, and mints — or whatever your personal nausea remedy is — in your car, as well as a stash of plastic shopping bags, tissues, and disinfecting wipes to handle any sudden-onset pukies.
Plan for frequent stops
We mentioned this before, but it’s not safe to stay in a seated position for prolonged periods of time while pregnant. To avoid blood clots, map out places where you can get out and stretch your legs along your route, at least once every hour.
And while you’re at it, know where you’ll be able to use the bathroom, because you will need to use the bathroom.
Turn off your cell phone (and any other sources of distraction)
Your pregnant brain is already all over the place — you don’t need anything else taking your attention off the road. Silence those texts and calls, people.
Make sure your airbags are in working order
There’s no added risk of injury to your baby with airbag use, according to a 2010 study.
An airbag won’t keep your baby any safer during an accident, but it won’t hurt them either — and it’ll likely help you avoid serious injury.
Always see your provider after any traffic accident
No matter how minor the fender bender or how fine you feel afterward, call your OB-GYN or midwife and ask to be seen for an exam, just to be sure. The best-case scenario is that this ends up feeling unnecessary — but we doubt you’ll regret getting that peace of mind.
The final word
Is it safe to drive during pregnancy? Most of the time, yes — in a healthy pregnancy, driving is safe as long as you wear your seatbelt correctly.
There are situations when you should let someone else get behind the wheel or skip the drive altogether. But these aren’t the norm: If you can comfortably and safely sit in the driver’s seat without worrying about distractions, sickness, or limited movement, you’re set to go cruisin’.