Seatbelts protect unborn babies, study finds

Wearing a seat belt when pregnant greatly reduces the risk to the unborn baby in the event of a vehicle crash, an American study has found.

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The University of Michigan researchers estimated that based on their findings, published today, the lives of 200 of the roughly 370 foetuses killed annually in US vehicle crashes would be spared if all pregnant women wore seat belts.

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“Seat belts absolutely protect the foetus – and not wearing a belt is a big problem,” Dr. Mark Pearlman, who led the study, said, “Every single time they get in a motor vehicle, pregnant women should wear their seat belts without question – every single time.”

The researchers performed detailed analyses of 57 crashes involving women who were at least 20 weeks pregnant. Pregnant women who wore seat belts cut the risk of their foetus being killed or experiencing other serious complications in a vehicle crash by 84% compared to women who did not wear seat belts, the researchers said.

In the study, 72% of the women were wearing seat belts. Only 38% of the women whose babies died or suffered serious complications were wearing seat belts.

Pearlman said he hoped the findings dispel once and for all what he called the “myth” that wearing a seat belt is harmful for the fetus.

“What this study also shows is that if you are unbelted, the mom did a lot worse. And since the baby’s dependent upon the mom entirely for everything, that’s part of what’s going on here – you’re protecting the mom, you’re also protecting the baby,” Pearlman said.

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The study also turned up no evidence that air bags were harmful to foetuses, and Pearlman said he does not recommend disabling them.

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