What Should I Do if I Am in a Car Accident While Pregnant?
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, car accidents are the biggest threat and the largest single cause of fetal injury and fatality for an unborn child. Police report statistics show that approximately 200,000 pregnant women are involved in car accidents each year in the United States, resulting in up to 5,000 fetal deaths. Additionally, those with non-fatal personal injury may ultimately sustain adverse outcomes, such as permanent disability from fetal trauma. Other common injuries include the following:
- Placental abruption: Complete or partial placental abruption is the most common type of injury resulting from a car accident. Placental abruption occurs when the placenta detaches from the uterine wall from the force of impact in the accident. This type of injury is a potentially life-threatening medical emergency to the fetus, causing a severe restriction of blood and oxygen to the baby. Fetal death rates from placental abruption are high, although an emergency cesarean section can be performed in some cases, saving the baby. Placental abruption happens in approximately five percent of low-impact collisions and in 30 to 50 percent of high-impact collisions. Placental abruptions can also occur from compression of the mother’s abdomen by a steering wheel or seat belt.
- Uterine rupture: One of the most dangerous pregnancy complications is uterine rupture, a rare obstetric event that occurs when the uterus tears and ruptures and carries the highest fetal mortality rate. Once the uterus ruptures, all oxygen to the baby will be lost, requiring an immediate delivery for any chance of recovery or survival. Although uterine rupture can occur during car accidents, it is not common. Those that do occur typically stem from the airbag deploying into the mother’s abdomen, constriction of the seat belt, or impacting the steering wheel or dashboard, if the mother is unbuckled.
- Hypovolemic shock: When a pregnant woman sustains serious injuries resulting in large blood loss, her body can enter hypovolemic shock, a process of diverting the available blood to the most essential organs. Hypovolemic shock poses a serious risk for the baby. The fetal mortality rate because of hypovolemic shock is over 80 percent in car accidents.
- Direct fetal trauma: Direct fetal trauma exists when the fetus receives injuries directly rather than indirectly through the mother’s injuries. This type of injury is low, occurring only about 10 percent of injuries in car accidents, with the fetus well insulated by the mother and womb. Direct fetal trauma can occur from head injuries sustained by airbags, steering wheels, or seat belts. The baby’s head is the most vulnerable for injury during a car accident, owing to the head’s position in the womb.
- Premature birth: Physical trauma caused by the accident can result in premature birth. The mother can enter early labor and delivery because of the mental and physical stress of the accident, or the baby must be delivered, such as with a cesarean section, as a life-saving measure by medical professionals. Annually, over half a million babies are born prematurely, which can lead to further infant health issues, some fatal.
- Miscarriage: Serious car accidents and injuries can lead to a miscarriage in some instances, often through the impact of the collision, deployment of the airbags, seat belt constriction, or striking the steering wheel. The seriousness of the mother’s injuries directly impacts the health of the fetus and can sometimes result in a miscarriage.
- Fetal hypoxia: Fetal hypoxia occurs when there is a lack of oxygen to the fetus, negatively impacting development. Umbilical cord prolapse or occlusion and placental abruption from the impact of the collision most commonly lead to fetal hypoxia.
- Shaken baby syndrome: The force of impact that occurs in car accidents is at fault for the majority of injuries, both internally and externally. One of the most common injuries resulting from this force is whiplash, which poses a serious risk for babies in the womb. The sudden force can propel the baby forward and back multiple times, resulting in what is commonly called shaken baby syndrome. A serious injury that can result in life-long damage and disability, shaken baby syndrome can cause brain damage, head trauma, disfigurement of the shoulders, and other trauma.
How Can I Best Protect My Baby While Driving?
The most effective protection for your unborn child is to not drive while pregnant, although that is not often feasible for most women. When you do drive, however, there are precautions you can take to provide the most protection for you and your baby.
The most important safety measure is to always wear your seat belt. Although seat belts can cause some injury, wearing one is still far safer for both you and the baby than not wearing one at all or wearing it incorrectly to avoid crossing the baby.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends wearing the shoulder strap away from your neck, but not off the shoulder, and positioned across your chest between your breasts. Position the lap belt below the baby, making sure it is snug across your hips and pelvic bone. Making these minor adjustments allows the seat belt to still properly restrain you during an accident and lowers the risk of harm to the baby.
Never forgo wearing a seat belt or put the shoulder strap under your arm or behind your back. Doing so puts you at a higher risk of serious impact injuries and the potential to be ejected, as your upper torso will not be safely constrained by the seat belt and can move freely during an accident.
If possible, slide the seat further back from the steering wheel and the airbag to reduce the potential harm from impact. This can be more challenging as the baby grows, but never position yourself too far from the steering wheel or pedals to the point at which using them becomes difficult or affects your ability to drive safely. Driving is a common challenge for women in late stages of pregnancy, especially women with lower stature who must sit close to the steering wheel to reach the pedals. In this situation, consider alternative methods of traveling that do not require you to drive, such as riding with a friend or taking public transportation.
Lastly, do not operate any vehicle that has no airbags or offers only lap seat belts. The potential for serious injuries to you and your unborn child is extremely high in cars of this type.
The most important action to take after an accident is to seek medical evaluation, even if you believe your injuries are minor. Many injuries sustained during a car accident are internal and do not often present symptoms until hours or days later and can be life-threatening for both you and the baby.
National Harbor Car Accident Lawyers at the Law Offices of Duane O. King Represent Clients Whose Unborn Child Is Injured in a Car Accident
Injuries from a car accident can be difficult and emotional, but injuries sustained during pregnancy can be devastating physically, emotionally, and financially. If you are pregnant and have been injured in a car accident because of another driver’s negligence, the National Harbor car accident lawyers at the Law Offices of Duane O. King can help. Call us today at 202-331-1963 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Washington DC, Alexandria, Virginia, and National Harbor, Maryland, we work with clients in Prince George’s County, including Laurel, Beltsville, Adelphi, College Park, Greenbelt, Mitchellville, Woodmore, Greater Upper Marlboro, Springdale, Largo, Bowie, Capitol Heights, District Heights, Forestville, Suitland, Seat Pleasant, Clinton, Oxon Hill, Temple Hills, and Fort Washington.