Buckle-In That Belly: Seatbelts Safe for Moms-To-Be

Pregnant women who shun seatbelts put themselves and their babies at more risk.

ByABC News
May 20, 2009, 12:11 PM

May 20, 2009— -- Safety is a primary concern for pregnant women -- so much so that some mothers-to-be won't use seat belts for fear of harming their unborn children.

That, according to researchers from Wake Forest University, is the wrong approach.

Wearing a seatbelt actually reduces the risk of early delivery or losing the baby, said Dr. Stacie Zelman, who studied almost 2,500 pregnant women who were involved in car crashes.

She found that having both an airbag and a seatbelt were most protective against complications or loss of the baby.

"Using restraints is actually beneficial in this population of patients," Zelman said. She reported the results of her meta-analysis at the meeting of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine in New Orleans.

She said that trauma during pregnancy is a serious cause of injury and death for both the fetus and the mother, but some pregnant women don't wear seatbelts out of fear that they might harm their unborn child.

"There's a lot of belief that wearing a seatbelt, if you're in an accident, will actually harm the fetus just by the nature of the restraint, and that having an airbag go off will cause more trauma than the accident itself," Zelman said.

So to determine whether wearing seatbelts actually has an effect on the rate of early delivery or fetal loss after a car crash, Zelman and her team looked at data from the National Trauma Database registry.

Of more than two million patients, the researchers found 2,422 patients who were pregnant when they were involved in a motor vehicle accident.

While 152 had fetal loss or an early delivery, 2,270 had no complications.

Only 77 of the 1,329 women who were wearing a seatbelt -- 5.8 percent -- had a complication, and only five of the 104 women who had an airbag deploy during their crash -- 4.8 percent -- had a complication.

And 11 of the 287 women who wore their seatbelt and experienced an airbag inflation -- 3.8 percent -- had a complication.

On the other hand, of the 702 women who were unrestrained, 59 experienced a complication, at a rate of 8.4 percent.