In a nutshell
It's safe to drive throughout your pregnancy - as long as you feel comfortable and fit to drive.
The expert's view
"It’s perfectly fine to drive during pregnancy, provided you feel fit to do so, and you have not been advised by a doctor or medical practitioner to stop driving," explains a spokesperson for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).
However, dashing around like your non-pregnant self isn't advisable, and you should bear any pregnancy symptoms in mind. "Avoid driving if experiencing some of the effects of pregnancy, such as nausea or extreme tiredness, which reduce your fitness to drive," RoSPA adds. "These issues may only be temporary, for example, nausea during the early stages of pregnancy, or tiredness during the late stages, or because you’re not sleeping very well. Ask yourself whether you feel fit to drive before you get behind the wheel."
What about driving with a big bump in late pregnancy?
We've seen the pics of Kate Middleton driving herself and Prince George from swimming back to Buckingham Palace - when she was reportedly past her due date. So it must be OK if the royals are doing it, yes?
It is, but In the final weeks of pregnancy, RoSPA stresses the importance of listening to your body and stopping any long solo trips. "In the very late stages of pregnancy, avoid making long trips on your own and share the driving with someone else if possible. There may come a point when you want to stop driving because it’s become difficult to get in and out of your car, it's difficult to find a comfortable seating position or you simply feel too tired."
Do you still need to wear a seat belt?
Yes. All pregnant women must wear their seat belts. You should also avoid using a lap-only seat belt as they may cause injuries to unborn children in a collision. The safest way for to wear a seat belt during pregnancy is to:
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- Place the diagonal strap between your breasts and over your breastbone with the strap resting over your shoulder, not your neck
- Place the lap belt flat on your thighs, fitting comfortably beneath your bump, and over your pelvis
- Keep the belt as tight as possible
Are airbags safe when you're pregnant?
Yes they are. You should keep your airbag switched on as it's safer to use an airbag than not. Try not to worry that your baby might get harmed by the airbag inflating if you are involved in an accident - airbags are safe. Research carried out at the University of Washington study in 2009 studied more than 3,000 accidents, and found there was no higher risk of foetal distress, placental separation or caesarean section in women whose airbags deployed.
While airbags can sometimes cause bruising to your face, arms and chest following a crash, not using an airbag is likely to result in far more serious injuries.
But you should adjust your sitting position. Sit as far back from the airbag and steering wheel as possible, while still being able to comfortably reach the controls and pedals. A distance of at least 25cm (10 inches) is best. If possible, tilt the seat back a little, but make sure you're not leaning forward to reach the steering wheel. Some steering wheels may be adjustable - if yours is, angle it towards your breastbone rather than your bump or your head.
And of course, don’t forget to adjust your mirrors if you change your seating position. It's easily done!
What if you start to feel tired?
Not only does the strain of carrying your bump around tire you out, but a raised temperature from the increase in your body's blood volume during pregnancy can make you sleepy. Add to this the fact that nights are often more restless when you're trying to sleep with a bump, and you can find yourself feeling groggy.
What can you do? To make yourself feel more awake, crack a window so you have plenty of fresh air and make sure you have a bottle of water within easy reach.
Suffering from pregnancy cramps?
If you suffer from pregnancy cramps bear in mind that long or traffic-filled drives will mean keeping your legs in one position for long periods and this might bring on cramps.
What can you do? Make sure you try to flex your legs and circulate your ankles when you can and if you're doing a long journey, plan some breaks to get out of the car for a stretch.
And what if you think you might be going into labour?
It might sound obvious, but don't drive yourself to hospital when you are in labour. "Plan how you will get to hospital when you go into labour – make sure there’s someone to drive you," advises RoSPA.
If you know there won't be anyone to drive you to hospital when you go into labour, discuss this with your midwife in advance and talk to a local taxi firm. If you find when the big moment comes, that your partner cannot be there to drive you, use a taxi. If that's not possible, or the baby is coming urgently call the hospital to see if an emergency ambulance is needed.
What our mums are saying on the MFM forum
"I passed my driving test at 35 weeks and drove right up until the birth at 41 weeks. I wasnt really huge though and did take a break after the birth."
"I am a week overdue and am still driving most days! My bump doesn't get in the way at all (although my bump is fairly small and I have long legs), the only slight difficulty I have is with parallel parking as it's difficult to twist all the way round! I bought a 'bump belt' to wear, which sort of pulls the lower part of the seatbelt off your bump and over your lap, so if you're in an acident the baby doesn't get too badly squished."
"We don't own a car. Our parents live very far away and I don't want anyone but my hubby there during labour anyway. (apart from doctors and midwives etc...) I feel uncomfortable about using a taxi to get there. What if my waters break in the back of the taxi?! And the driver is a stranger. What if they refuse to take me?
I live in Central London so there is nowhere to park anyway around my house or the hospital and it is all permit parking. Do we hire a car? Do we buy a car? Do we borrow a car? But what about time limits? I don't know exactly when I will go into labour or how long the first stage will last so will we have time to get a car that way?
An ambulance has crossed my mind but I can see that that would be considered incredibly selfish and possibly taking it away from someone who really needs it."