May 12, 2014 2:53 pm

New study urges pregnant women to be more diligent behind the wheel

HALIFAX – Adrienne Walsh is brimming with excitement over her first pregnancy.

The 38-year-old from Halifax is seven months pregnant and awaiting her little baby girl.

Walsh has a list of things to do before that happens, but she is also making to keep her baby safe before she even arrives: the soon-to-be mom is being extra careful behind the wheel.

“I’m a little bit more diligent watching for things, paying more attention to the people around me and making sure that people aren’t braking faster,” she said.

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A new Canadian study says that is a great idea, especially since it finds expectant mothers in their second trimester are at a higher risk of a serious car crash.

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.

“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.

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

It’s something Amanda Huska of Halifax can attest to.

The new mom to a five-month-old daughter said those were all factors in a minor car accident she had early in her pregnancy.

“With the insomnia and stuff, with the first couple weeks of finding out, I backed the car up into a stand that we knew was there,” she said.

“[It was] just being tired. I put about a grand of damage into our brand new vehicle.”

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.

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

WATCH: Does the new study mean you shouldn’t drive at all while pregnant?

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.

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.

Researchers caution the two things are only associated and do not have a causal effect.

They emphasize women should still drive, but urge them to be more cautious of what’s on the road and more conscientious of the changes in their body when they do.

“Perhaps not driving when you’re tired, getting somebody else to do some of that. Giving yourself permission to say, ‘You know, I’m exhausted. I shouldn’t be driving today or somebody else will carpool’.,” said Barrett.

The second thinking before getting into the driver’s seat is something Walsh already does.

“If I’m not feeling well, I definitely don’t drive or I wait until I’m feeling a little bit better,” she said.

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

© Shaw Media, 2014

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