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Nearly half of pregnant women put their unborn babies at risk due to wearing seat belts incorrectly

New research commissioned by UK child safety experts Clippasafe has shown that pregnant women are putting their safety and that of their unborn babies at risk, by wearing seat belts incorrectly or by not wearing them at all

The in-depth survey on car safety during pregnancy was completed by 500 mothers of various ages with children aged 15 or younger. The research established that 80% found wearing a seatbelt uncomfortable during pregnancy, with almost 20% of women admitting to not wearing one at all.

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

Foetal injury or miscarriage is 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, however, almost half of women are unaware of this advice and don’t realise the danger that an incorrectly positioned seat belt poses to an unborn child, even in the event of a minor car accident.

Dr Karen Joash is a Consultant Obstetrician who works with patients at the Imperial College NHS Trust and also provides private maternity care at the Portland Hospital and the Lindo Wing at St. Mary’s Hospital, where many Royal babies, including the newest arrival His Royal Highness Prince Louis, have been delivered.

She explained the dangers of incorrectly positioned seat belts during pregnancy: “It 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.”

She went on: “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.”

Combined with research undertaken by the University of Toronto in 2014, the survey results paint a worrying picture. The research, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, 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.

Roger Cheetham, Managing Director of Clippasafe, commissioned the seat belt research to understand the attitudes of pregnant women towards car safety and to find out if they are aware of seat belt risks and how to reduce them. He stressed that the dangers shouldn’t put women off wearing a seatbelt.

“This is about empowering [expecting mums and dads] with the knowledge of how to keep themselves and their unborn babies safe. Seat belts are not inherently dangerous during pregnancy, as long as they are worn correctly. They must be kept below the bump so that any shock from a collision can be absorbed by the hips.”

Dr Joash also advised expectant mothers to take seat belt wear seriously and look for ways to make the belt more comfortable and reduce the danger to unborn babies by keeping it in the right place. “Minor road traffic accidents are not uncommon, in these cases, maternal musculoskeletal injuries are often seen. A seat belt should be worn at all times but mums-to-be must find other ways to wear the seatbelt more comfortably and not across the bump.”

There are products available to address the issue and ensure that seat belts are kept in the right position. They can be purchased from many department and parenting stores and also online. They vary in cost, but most are easy to use and feature a pad to sit on with fabric loops that wrap and secure around the lap strap, keeping it in place. They are designed to last through several pregnancies.

Mr Cheetham of Clippasafe continued: “We want to ensure that women are aware of the simple solutions that could avoid a very dangerous and heartbreaking situation. We want to work with medical professionals to bring this issue to light and give women the opportunity to prevent a possible tragedy from happening.”

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