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Seat Belt Use by Pregnant Women Could Save 200 Fetuses a Year

Those in car crashes where baby is injured or dies are unbelted 62% of the time

WEDNESDAY, April 2 (HealthDay News) -- Contrary to some popular folklore, pregnant women should wear seat belts, not only to save themselves in the event of a car accident but also to save their fetus.

According to a new study published in the April issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, almost 200 fetuses each year -- or half of all fetal losses in motor-vehicle crashes -- could be saved if pregnant women buckled up properly.

"This validates the current advice that we give to women, but puts it in a very nice perspective because they [the study authors] took all factors in any accident or crash into the picture," said Dr. Salih Yasin, vice chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and director of obstetrics at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Simply stated, added Dr. Richard Jones, assistant professor of obstetrics/gynecology at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, "Pregnant women need to be properly wearing seat belts," with the best type of seat belt the three-point restraint.

"That's basically what all of us have now," said Jones, who is director of the maternal fetal medicine program at Scott & White Hospital in Temple, Texas. "It's the lap belt that's integral with the shoulder belt."

An estimated 170,000 motor vehicle crashes each year in the United States involve pregnant women, and some 90 to 369 fetuses are lost as a result. That's more than the number of children under 1 year of age who die in such crashes and more than the number of children who die from bicycle accidents, the study authors stated.

Even if a fetus survives, premature delivery as a result of the crash can lead to low birth weight, respiratory problems and long-term physical or neurological problems, the authors said.

After examining data on crashes involving 56 pregnant women, researchers at the University of Michigan concluded that the survival of the fetus is most strongly associated with the severity of the crash and how badly the mother is injured.

Fetuses were 4.5 times more likely to survive if the mother was wearing the proper seat belt restraint (with or without air bag deployment).

Among the study's other findings:

  • Regular use of seat belts by pregnant women will prevent 84 percent of fetal injuries and deaths as a result of car accidents.
  • Women in car crashes where the fetus is injured or dies are unbelted 62 percent of the time.
  • 79 percent of pregnant women who properly wore a three-point belt, with or without air bag deployment, had "acceptable" fetal outcomes in less severe crashes.
  • Air bags do not seem to adversely affect fetal outcomes.

"For pregnant women, the lap-belt portion needs to be worn low over the pelvis as stated in the article, so if there is a crash, basically, the bony pelvis is what the seat belt is restraining rather than [having the force] transmitted to the uterus or the abdomen," Jones explained. "The shoulder belt should simply come up from the side, go between the woman's breasts, and over the shoulder."

More information

Visit Oklahoma State University for more on why you should wear seat belts.

SOURCES: Richard Jones, M.D., assistant professor, obstetrics/gynecology, Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and director, maternal fetal medicine program, Scott & White, Temple, Texas; Salih Yasin, M.D., vice chair, department of obstetrics and gynecology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and director of obstetrics, Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami; April 2008 American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology

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