Driving When Pregnant: Everything You Need To Know
Whether you’re in the early stages of pregnancy or in your third trimester, many women rely on their car to carry out day-to-day tasks such as shopping or dropping the kids at school. But as your baby bump grows bigger, many women begin to worry about whether it is safe to continue driving during pregnancy.
To help elevate some concerns you may have about driving whilst pregnant, Nationwide Vehicle Contracts has put together a short guide to help you have a safe and comfortable drive during pregnancy.
Is it safe to drive during pregnancy?
Provided you have not had any problems with your pregnancy and there are no medical reasons in which your GP has advised you against driving, then it fine to carry on driving during pregnancy.
Driving while pregnant is both legal and safe, provided you feel comfortable on the road. It is very common for many women to feel tired and nauseous in the first trimester which can make it hard to concentrate so be sure to take regular breaks and only drive when you're feeling alert and well-rested.
In the later stages of the pregnancy, you may find it becomes increasingly difficult to get in and out of the car so it is important to assess whether you feel confident enough to continue driving. If your baby bump gets too big to position yourself correctly or if you can't fully control the pedals because of your bump, you may want to consider stopping driving until after the birth. Big soled shoes, higher heels or a cushion on the seat will all help but you must be in full control of the pedals in order to continue driving.
Tiredness can also come into play as you near your due date. Not only does the strain of carrying your bump tire you out, but a raised temperature can also make you sleepy. Take note of how you’re feeling and avoid your usual car trips if you don’t feel up to it.
It’s also worth adopting a few safety precautions for your own peace of mind. Make sure you always have your mobile phone handy and, as you near your due date, take your pregnancy documents with you on long trips.
Do I have to wear a seat belt if I'm pregnant?
You should always wear your seat belt when driving whilst pregnant. Although it may feel uncomfortable wearing a seat belt over your bump, if you wear the belt correctly it will help protect you and your baby from harm in the event of a sudden stop or accident. The only exception to this rule is if your doctor has deemed you medically exempt. In this case, you will be given a ‘Certificate of Exemption from Compulsory Seat Belt Wearing’ from your GP. This certificate needs to be kept in your vehicle at all times, and must be shown to the police if you're stopped. You will also need to inform your insurer you have this certificate.
To make your journey as comfortable and safe as possible, it's always safest to use a three-point seat belt which has both a lap belt and a diagonal strap. When putting on your seat belt, make sure the top part of the belt (the diagonal strap) goes over your collarbone and between your breasts, resting against your shoulder rather than your neck. The lower strap should lie across your thighs and hips and under your bump, not over it. It's really important that while driving you constantly check to see the lap belt has not risen up on to your bump.
Where possible, you should avoid travelling in vehicles with ‘lap only belts’ as they have been shown to cause serious injuries to an unborn child in the event the car suddenly brakes. If there's no other option, a lap belt on its own is better than no seat belt at all. However, a three-point seat belt is much safer for you and your unborn baby.
It’s worth noting that if you don’t wear a seat belt when you’re supposed to, you can be fined up to £500.
Is it safe to travel in a car with airbags during pregnancy?
Vehicle airbags are considered safe for pregnant women to use and will help protect you and your baby in the event of a car accident. In a crash, it is important to reduce the primary risks to your baby. Airbags work by helping to spread out the force of a collision, minimising your forward movement and acting as an instant cushion for you and your bump.
As your baby bump grows, consider adjusting your seat further away from the steering wheel as far back as is comfortable. Try tilting and moving your seat to get some distance between your bump (ideally, around 25 centimetres away from the steering wheel) and make sure the steering wheel is tilted toward your breastbone rather than toward your abdomen. If this makes it harder to see, consider using a cushion to raise yourself a little higher.
How can I stay comfortable when travelling by car during pregnancy?
Sitting for long periods of time can be difficult when you're pregnant so it is important to try and make your journey as comfortable as possible. Ensuring you are comfortable before setting off on your drive will help you to fully focus on the road and minimise any distractions.
- Sit flat against the back of your seat and make sure the steering wheel is within a comfortable distance.
- If you suffer from back pain, try putting a cushion or rolled-up jumper in the small of your back.
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes to avoid tight waistbands or shoe straps digging in when you're travelling.
- Keep a bottle of water and some healthy snacks handy to keep your energy levels up and stay hydrated.
- Try to take a break at least every 90 minutes for a rest and a much-needed toilet break.
Long or traffic-filled drives may result in swollen ankles or pregnancy cramps in your legs so it is important to take a break and perform some simple stretches. Try extending your leg heel first and gently flex your foot to stretch your calf muscles. Rotating your ankles and wiggle your toes will also help to keep your blood circulating.
As fatigue and dizziness are common during pregnancy, it is also important to stay hydrated during car journeys. Ensure there is a regular flow of air coming into the car, either by opening a window or switching on the car’s air conditioning system and try to eat natural foods that provide energy, such as fruit and nuts.
Are long car trips safe during pregnancy?
Fatigue can quickly set in during pregnancy so try and keep car journeys as short as possible. During the latter stages of pregnancy, many women prefer to stay close to home in case they need to get to the hospital for an early delivery, so try and keep car journeys ideally within 25 minutes of the hospital at all times, especially during the last 3 weeks of pregnancy.
If you do have to go on a long journey, try and share the driving duties with someone else. Plan to stop at least every 90 minutes for a toilet break and to stretch your limbs and make sure you have a bottle of water within easy reach and be sure eat regularly too.
As with any driver, it is important to make sure your car is maintained and serviced and that your mobile phone is charged, especially if you're driving on your own and/or at night.
What should I do if I have a car accident whilst pregnant?
If you are in a car accident, no matter how minor, it's best to get checked out by a doctor just to be safe. Even if you feel fine after an accident, a forceful jolt may cause pregnancy complications, so it always best to have a thorough check.
In a severe accident, you'll be taken straight to hospital. Make sure you tell the emergency services that you're pregnant and by how many weeks.
It goes without saying that if you have contractions, pain or bleeding after an accident, see a doctor as soon as possible.
As with any accident, remember to let your insurance provider know.
When should I stop driving?
In the last few months of pregnancy, your growing bump may make it more difficult to get in and out of the car and may even start to get in the way of the steering wheel. As a result, you may prefer to stop driving towards the very end of your pregnancy. Although there is no fast or loose rule, most women tend to stop driving around 30 weeks preferring their partner do the driving simply because it's easier and more comfortable.
In the last trimester, fatigue, exhaustion and a lack of focus may start to affect your ability to drive. If this happens regularly, you should consider stopping driving until after the birth. It is important to trust your instincts. If you do not feel safe behind the wheel, find a chauffeur.
How soon can I drive after giving birth?
Whether it's safe enough for you to drive depends on how you feel after giving birth. You should only drive if you feel well enough to do so.
After a natural birth, it's recommended that new mothers rest for several days before carrying out usual daily activities. However, if you feel you're able to do so, then short car journeys shouldn't be a problem. It's recommended you wait a few weeks before making long journeys. If you're in any doubt you should check with your GP.
After a caesarean section it is likely to take a few weeks until you feel well enough to be able to do activities such as driving. The NHS Direct website recommends seeking advice from your midwife if you are unsure whether to drive.