Pregnant women may have another thing to add to their list of “don’ts” behind sushi, hot tubs, and alcohol; a new study out of Canada has found that pregnant women are more likely to have serious car accidents.
Doctors reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that expectant mothers in their second trimester have the same chance of getting into a car accident as a person with sleep apnea.
Study leader Donald Redelmeier, director of the Clinical Epidemiology Unit at the University of Toronto, had researchers analyze medical records for more than 500,000 mothers in Ontario. For each woman, they focused on the 4 years before the baby was born and 1 year after birth, a total of 5 years.
Redelmeier, who was one of the first to study the link between car accidents and cell phone use back in 1997, said he got the idea for the study because his pregnant patients seemed to not consider it. “Patients who are pregnant ask me the strangest questions about scuba diving, flying, and roller coasters.
They never talk about road safety, despite it being substantially larger threat to health.” After analyzing the data, researchers found that during the first trimester, car crash rate was not significantly different than before pregnancy. However, during the middle 3 months of gestation, the risk rose by about 42 percent.
In addition, this period of gestation saw an increase of car accident related ER visits from 4.3 visits per year per 1,000 women to 7.7 visits per year per 1,000 women. After the third trimester, the risk decreases, and after the baby is born the rate of severe car crashes drops even lower than pre-pregnancy.
Though researchers did not look at the reason for the increase in risk, Redelmeier attributes it to hormonal changes during pregnancy that cause other health concerns. “We’ve known for a long time that pregnancy causes fatigue, insomnia, nausea and stress,” he says. “What we wondered was how all those factors might contribute to driver error and the possibility of a life-threatening motor vehicles crash … I was surprised by the magnitude of the effect. … It’s a substantial risk.” To remedy this risk, Redelmeier does not necessarily suggest expectant mothers make their partners their drivers. “Young adult men are even more dangerous behind the wheel. They have even higher crash rates [than pregnant women]” Redelmeier says. Instead, he recommends careful and vigilant driving, such as obeying speed limits and stop signs. “That seems like such incredibly banal advice to give. I realize that, but every one of our crashes in the study could have been avoided by a small change in driver behaviors.”
Going the extra mile to drive cautiously should be a priority for all pregnant mothers, Redelmeier says, since an ER visit is particularly problematic for a pregnant woman. “These individuals are enormously problematic to care for,” he claims, “many of the standard procedures, such as CT scan of the abdomen, are contraindicated for pregnant women … These are circumstances that are best avoided.”