How to Wear a Car Seatbelt When You are Pregnant

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All drivers and passengers in cars or trucks should wear seat belts. This includes pregnant women. However, there are potential dangers if you wear a seat belt in the wrong way when you are expecting. Pregnant women should wear their seat belts correctly to avoid injuries to their unborn children.

At the Rice, Murtha & Psoras, we are acutely aware of the dangers of posed to pregnant women in auto accidents. We represent mothers-to-be whose children have been harmed in car wrecks. Unborn children can face a wide range of injuries in auto accidents. Some of them are potentially life-threatening.

There are few more traumatic things on the roads of Maryland than the death of or injury to an unborn child.

What Injuries Can Unborn Children Suffer in Car Accidents?

Birth Defects

Occasionally, a car accident can result in premature birth and birth defects. Birth defects are more likely in premature children.

Blunt abdominal trauma associated with the impact of a car accident is a serious concern to a pregnant woman because it may harm her fetus. It may directly or indirectly injure fetal organs as well as fetal organ systems shared between the child and the mother.

Car crashes are responsible for most injuries requiring hospitalization during pregnancy. A study in ScienceDaily highlighted the link between car crashes and birth defects, particularly in mothers-to-be who did not wear seat belts.


The unborn baby is well protected in the mother’s womb by amniotic fluid. This means a baby can usually survive a moderate impact. However, if the mother’s stomach or uterus is punctured, or she undergoes a period of cardiac arrest, without breathing, the baby may not survive.

A miscarriage is rare after most auto accidents, but it may be caused by a severe impact. You should always seek medical attention immediately if were involved in a car crash when pregnant.

Premature Birth

As many as 1 in 8 babies in the United States, amounting to 500,000, are born early every year in the United States. Preterm birth is defined as the birth of an infant prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy.

Stress or trauma can cause a premature birth. An auto accident puts considerable stress on an expectant mother and can lead to premature birth. Preterm birth is a major cause of complications in infants.  Even infants born only four to six weeks early may suffer the adverse effects of preterm birth like problems breathing, feeding issues, jaundice, and decreased brain functions, according to Kentucky Children’s Hospital.

Coup and Contrecoup Injuries

These head injuries are common in car accidents and may cause ongoing memory and concentration problems. A coup injury can occur when a moving object hits your head while you are stationary. An example is if you are stopped at a red light and are sideswiped by another vehicle.

Coup injuries occur at the exact position of the impact. If a driver’s head hits an airbag, he or she may suffer a coup injury at the spot the forehead collided directly with the airbag.

A “contrecoup” injury occurs at the opposite spectrum of the brain from the “coup” injury. In a high-speed crash, the brain itself keeps moving after the head stops, hitting the side of the skull.

A mother-to-be is more likely to be impacted by coup and contrecoup injuries. Her unborn child can also be hurt. In the case of an unborn baby, this type of injury is often referred to as “shaken baby syndrome.”

High-risk Pregnancies

Not all car crashes pose an immediate threat to a pregnant woman. However, an auto accident can increase the risk of a high-risk pregnancy occurring. Pregnancies are labeled “high-risk” when they entail complications with either the baby or the mother that require careful monitoring and ongoing observation. Although many high-risk pregnancies occur due to a pre-existing medical condition in the mother, the risks often escalate after the mother suffers health problems due to an auto wreck.

Trauma and psychological problems

In some cases, expectant mothers may suffer stress and emotional trauma that affects the wellbeing of their unborn child. The more serious the accident and the injuries, the more acute the mental anguish is likely to be. However, the very fear of complications in the child can cause emotional trauma.

When a mother suffers severe stress of this nature, it can affect the health of her unborn child.

How to Wear a Seat Belt when Pregnant

Although seat belts pose some dangers to pregnant drivers and passengers, you should always wear one when riding in a car, an SUV or a truck in Maryland. Seat belts are the single most effective way to save lives. However, it’s vital to wear your safety belt correctly.

Here are some key seat belt recommendations for pregnant drivers and passengers:

  • Never wear a seat belt above or across your belly;
  • Always use a shoulder belt. The belt should fit snugly across the center of your shoulder and chest.
  • The safest type of seat belt to wear is a combination of a lap and shoulder belt.
  • A lap belt should be placed beneath your belly, touching your thighs. It should be low and snug on the hip bones.
  • Never place a shoulder belt under your arm or behind your back.
  • If you are driving, keep your belly a safe distance back from the car’s airbag. Ensure your breastbone is at least 10 inches back from the dashboard or car’s steering wheel. You may have to move your seat further back as your belly grows later in your pregnancy.

Should You Ride in a Car in the Later Stages of Pregnancy?

You should be more cautious about driving in the later stages of pregnancy. Not only is driving more uncomfortable in the final trimester, but you are more likely to start labor if you get involved in an accident.

The safest place to sit in a car is as a passenger in the back seat. Where a mother sits may not directly affect the safety of an unborn baby in a crash, but injuries from car crashes are typically less serious for people who are sitting in the back seat of the vehicle. Buckle up in a three-point belt. In the last few weeks of pregnancy, it’s better if you can get someone else to drive or use public transport or an Uber or Lyft.

Are Expectant Mothers More Likely to Be Involved in Car Crashes?

Recent research from Canada indicated pregnant women are more likely to be involved in serious car crashes.

The risk is typically greatest during the second trimester from week 13 to week 28, according to a report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

An NPR report stated a woman’s chance of getting into an accident is about the same as someone with sleep apnea during the second trimester of pregnancy.

The authors of the study called for pregnant women to drive a little more carefully given their condition. They should avoid distractions, never speed and comply with normal safe driving habits. These tips apply to all drivers but you should be particularly alert when you are pregnant.

The Canadian research team found the risk of being involved in an accident falls decreases slightly third trimester of pregnancy. Once the baby is born, the rate of serious car crashes is even lower than before the pregnancy, the study suggested.

What Should You Do If You Are in an Accident When You are Pregnant?

You can never be too careful if you are involved in an accident when you are pregnant. Even an apparent fender bender can have implications for an unborn child. Call 911 if you think you believe you need emergency care after a car accident, or if you experience any of the following:

  • Pain in the pelvis or the belly;
  • Blackouts or loss of consciousness
  • Bleeding;
  • Pain in your belly or pelvis;
  • Leaking of fluid.

Ignoring the signs of pregnancy complications after a Maryland car accident can be potentially catastrophic for a mother and her unborn child. If you have any doubts get checked out by a doctor.

In the worst case scenario, an unborn child may die in a car crash. This is more likely in a high-impact crash that kills the mother. In 2015, a pregnant woman on the way to a baby shower was killed in a crash with a tractor-trailer on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The crash claimed the lives of four other family members and the woman’s unborn child.

Can a Wrongful Death Case Be Brought on Behalf of an Unborn Child in Maryland?

The legal rights of the fetus are the subject of much debate in U.S. law. Recently, Virginia passed a law that allows a wrongful death action to be brought on behalf of a fetus. The rule in Maryland is slightly different. It was set out in the case of Kandel v. White.

In this case, a woman who was eight weeks pregnant was a passenger in a vehicle that collided with an ambulance.  Her serious injuries led to the termination of the woman’s pregnancy, and ultimately, her death.

The dead woman’s representative sued on behalf of the mother and her unborn child.  The Court of Appeals of Maryland held that a wrongful death lawsuit could only be brought for a child who would have been viable outside the mother’s womb. In the case in question, the woman had been only eight weeks pregnant. Her estate was unable to successfully bring a wrongful death suit. Virginia’s law allows a wrongful death action on behalf of a fetus from the time of conception.

Contact a Maryland Personal Injury Lawyer over the Injury or Death of an Unborn Child

Auto accidents involving injuries to unborn children are always harrowing. These are complicated cases. They often involve in-depth investigations and expert witnesses. We hope you never have to deal with this situation.

If you need help, you should talk to a sympathetic Maryland personal injury lawyer. Please use seat belts correctly. A few inches of positioning may be the difference between a seat belt saving your child and causing an injury. Call the Rice, Murtha & Psoras today for a free consultation at (410) 694-7291.


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