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Driving While Pregnant: Common Questions Answered

From the moment you find out you are eating for two (or three or more!), everything you did prior to pregnancy is suddenly questioned. Can I eat my favorite deli subs anymore? Can I continue running? Is wine really off limits?

But one question that many newly pregnant mamas wonder, and something many of us do every day, is whether or not it’s safe to drive while pregnant. The good news for most women is yes!

“Yes, it’s generally safe to drive throughout your pregnancy as long as you are comfortable and can reach everything you need,” said Karen Rodeffer-Evans, MD, an OBGYN with Banner Health Clinic in Fallon, NV. “However, if your doctor or midwife has told you to stop driving for medical reasons, such as uncontrolled high blood pressure or a history of seizures, it’s important to follow their recommendations.”

While it’s generally safe to drive while pregnant, every situation and pregnancy is unique, which means questions you had during your first pregnancy may be different during your second, and so forth.

Dr. Rodeffer-Evans helps answer some common questions about driving while pregnant and shares some important safety tips as well.

Should I wear a seat belt?

Yes, yes, absolutely yes! “First, you should be aware that wearing a seat belt is not only a law, but it’s also your first line of defense if ever you are in a car crash,” Dr. Rodeffer-Evans said. “Before medical school, I worked in orthopedics, and you could always tell if someone hadn’t worn one when involved in an automobile accident.”

Wearing a seat belt protects you as well as your unborn child(ren), so always click it when you get in the car.

Is there a wrong and right way to wear a seat belt while pregnant?

The best way to wear your seatbelt is to place the lower strap of the seat belt below the abdomen (underneath your growing belly, on top of the legs) just above the hip bones, and place the upper shoulder strap across the middle of your sternum (chest) without lying too close to your neck. It’s important to note that the upper strap should not lie directly across your baby bump.

For a better visual, check out this helpful infographic by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

If I get in a fender bender or accident, should I let my doctor know?

In the first trimester, you have your bony pelvis to provide some protection, but once you’re well into your second trimester, you’ll have little added protection. Whether you get bumped at a red light or in a collision, you should always visit your doctor or a specialist for fetal monitoring so they can check that everything is OK with baby—even if you feel fine. It only takes a small force to sheer the placenta.

“It’s particularly important if you are Rh negative and your baby is Rh positive (O- blood for mom and O+ for baby, for instance),” Dr. Rodeffer-Evans said. “If your baby’s blood comes into contact with yours at any point in your pregnancy or delivery, it can be fatal without treatment. If you are in an accident, you may need an RhoGAM, a shot that contains antibodies to stop your immune system from reacting to your baby’s blood cells.”

Is it still safe to drive if I’m petite and I have to drive close to the steering wheel?

If you are petite or short in stature, you probably have already encountered issues with reaching the pedals. If so, you may already have a vehicle with pedals that can adjust—most new cars have this system. In addition to adjusting the pedals, you should also adjust the steering wheel so that it is tilted upward toward your breastbone.

If you are unable to make these adjustments and your belly is within 10 inches of the steering wheel, consider hitching a ride with a friend or coworker.

Is it safe to take long road trips?

A car trip may be a great way to get away, especially if flying is out of the question, but before you go, check with your doctor first to make sure it’s safe for you to travel. If you’re good to go, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind:

  • Take a pit stop at least every two hours to stretch your legs and get blood flowing back into your legs and feet. This can help avoid the risk of blood clots or deep vein thrombosis, which pregnant women are at greater risk of developing.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Consider going during your second trimester when you’re likely to feel your best.

Can I drive after giving birth?

“That depends, even when you’ve had a vaginal delivery,” Dr. Rodeffer-Evans said. “If you had a tough vaginal delivery, with any tearing or lacerations, or had a C-section, you’ll need to give your body time to recover.”

You use your abs to move your foot from the gas to the brake, so you’ll want to make sure you’re completely healed before hopping back in the car. Your doctor will be able to advise you on when it’s safe to drive again. After a C-section, it can usually take 4 to 6 weeks, so you’ll want to get some extra help from others if you have to get to newborn or follow-up appointments with your doctor.

Other helpful driving tips for pregnant moms

  • If you’re feeling dizzy, extra tired or nauseated, don’t drive.
  • Avoid sudden braking and sharp, fast turns.
  • Make sure your air bag system is on.
  • Before your little one (or two or three) arrives, make sure you have a car seat purchased and properly installed and ready to go for when they arrive. For car seat safety tips, check out “Find the Perfect Car Seat For Your Precious Cargo.”

The good news is that it’s generally safe to drive while you’re pregnant, but it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor or midwife if you have any questions or concerns. You never want to get behind the wheel if you’re unsure about your health or the wellbeing of your unborn child.

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