For most women, driving while pregnant is a given, even a necessity. Work still needs to be commuted to and errands still need to be run. But it's also undeniable that driving while pregnant presents its own set of unique challenges. Understanding what those challenges are, and learning how to adapt to them, is an important part of road safety and pregnancy health.
In an article for Healthline, Meredith Wallis, a nurse-midwife and nurse practitioner, gives a thorough explanation of what the risks are when driving pregnant and how to avoid them, and when to avoid driving altogether.
The reality is that driving does become more dangerous when you're pregnant, although the risks fluctuate depending on the trimester, sometimes weirdly so:
"A 2014 study suggested that women were 42 percent more likely to become involved in serious accidents during the second trimester than those who weren't pregnant. Yup, only in the second trimester. In the first and third trimesters, the risks were the same as they were outside of pregnancy."
Wallis speculates that the increased risk during the second trimester could be linked to the hormones that tend to take over during this phase of the pregnancy. Those hormones are linked to increased illness, fatigue and sleep deprivation, all of which can lead to a more difficult time staying alert while behind the wheel.
While the research to date suggests that the second trimester is linked to higher rates of collisions for pregnant women, Wallis stresses that driving is still considered a safe activity for most women throughout the duration of their pregnancy. However, that doesn't mean that you should necessarily be driving under the same conditions or in the same way that you were driving pre-pregnancy.
For example, Wallis suggests making adjustments to the vehicle, from the position of the steering wheel to the way you wear your seatbelt, while pregnant. She recommends that pregnant women, "position the lap portion of the [seat] belt as far under your belly as possible, not straight across." This will help keep your comfortable, but will also ensure that your seatbelt is doing the best job possible in case of a potential collision.
Another suggestion? "Consider adjusting the angle of the steering wheel upward, so the bottom edge of the wheel isn't directly parallel with your stomach." Doing this will make driving more comfortable, and the more comfortable you are when you're behind the wheel, the safer you will drive.
While Wallis and doctor's agree that, unless directed otherwise, driving is a safe activity while pregnant, there are occasions when Wallis argues you shouldn't get behind the wheel. This includes when you're feeling nauseous or when you're having trouble keeping focus.
"You're already more susceptible to distraction thanks to nausea, heartburn, insomnia, aches and pains, stress, anxiety, and pregnancy brain. And distraction makes you extra vulnerable to human error."
Another sign that you may need to ease up on driving while pregnant is when you're unable to get in a comfortable position behind the wheel. While adjusting your vehicle for your pregnant body is totally fine, too many adjustments can pose a risk:
"You have to push your seat back from the steering wheel so much you can't reach the brake pedal... You have to turn your body semi-sideways to take pressure off your aching right hip. Whatever the accommodation you're making, if your pregnancy is forcing you to drive in an unsafe position, you need to quit - at least until you can go back to sitting the way you're supposed to."
Understanding what you need to get comfortable and making the appropriate adjustments is vital in ensuring that you and your baby stay safe as you drive throughout your pregnancy. Remember to always listen to your body and respect your limits, and you'll be fine.
For more tips from Meredith Wallace, check out the original article in Healthline.