May 12, 2014 12:00 pm

Expectant moms at higher risk of car accidents, Canadian study warns

Watch video above: New study says expectant mothers are at risk behind the wheel. Crystal Goomansingh reports. 

TORONTO — Pregnant women, take extra caution behind the wheel: new Canadian research suggests that expectant mothers in their second trimester are at a higher risk of a serious car crash.

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Doctors conducting the study even say this increased risk caused an extra 75 crashes a month that sent pregnant women to hospital. Almost all of the time, the accidents could have been prevented by small changes in driver behaviour.

But the researchers want to emphasize: they’re not discouraging women from driving, they’re hoping their findings remind drivers to be conscious of the physiological changes in their body and be more careful on the road.

The study, conducted by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) looked at every woman who gave birth in Ontario between 2006 and 2011. That’s about half of a million people.

READ MORE: New moms, lose baby weight or face diabetes, heart health risk, study warns

“Our single largest finding was that the middle months of pregnancy were so serious with about a 42 per cent increase in the risk of a life-threatening crash compared to the very same months in the year before getting pregnant or the year after getting pregnant,” according to Dr. Donald Redelmeier, the lead author and ICES senior scientist.

“It’s a substantial problem. We think it equates to 75 extra cases each month for the province of Ontario.”

Fatigue, insomnia, stress, distraction and a busy lifestyle while pregnant are some of the factors in what may cause this spike in car accidents.

Dr. Jon Barrett, chief of maternal fetal medicine at Sunnybrook Hospital, said he zeroed in on the subject after noticing that his pregnant patients often complained about backaches, sleeplessness and exhaustion.

Redelmeier would hear from pregnant patients worried about rollercoasters, flying on planes or asthma. But they didn’t ask about driving a car, which most people do on a daily basis.

READ MORE: Developing diabetes in pregnancy on the rise, Canadian study warns

They wondered how those symptoms would affect pregnant women in their daily lives, specifically car accidents.

Being at an increased risk in the second trimester didn’t surprise Barrett.

“That kind of fits with what I see. In the first trimester, people aren’t as tired. They’re still managing relatively smoothly. In the third trimester, they’re just not driving as much,” he said.

At that point, most women are uncomfortable and in most cases, they’ve stopped working.

It’s in the second trimester, however, that women may feel pressure from themselves — and others — to perform as they normally would.

“Perhaps society has to look at how we treat women who are pregnant, how we expect of them to function normally when in fact there are huge physiological changes,” Barrett said.

READ MORE: Do babies inherit junk food addictions from their moms?

The researchers also only looked at serious, life-threatening crashes, so they say they’re underestimating the full extent of the problem.

They estimate that the average pregnant woman has a one in 50 chance of getting into a car accident at some point during their nine-month term. It’s a heightened risk, but it’s still below the risk of young men in the same age group.

“So the message here isn’t to stop driving…their husbands are usually worse behind the wheel,” Redelmeier said.

Barrett doesn’t believe in the term “baby brain.” Some families might joke about it but he said he hopes his further research between pregnant women’s reaction time might shed more light on what may be going on.

The magnitude of the risk is significant — Barrett said it’s akin to driving with sleep apnea or other impairments.

Their full findings were published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Read the full study here.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

© Shaw Media, 2014

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