Pregnant women should be warned to be extra cautious on the roads, experts have said, after research showed even minor shunts can lead to birth complications.
Around one in eight women will suffer accidents during pregnancy, and road traffic collisions are responsible for around 70 per cent of traumatic injuries that require immediate medical attention.
Previous research based on hospital records has shown that serious car crashes risk birth problems but it was unknown whether relatively small prangs were also damaging.
To find out, researchers in Taiwan cross referenced birth data and insurance records to pick up women who had relatively minor accidents and may not have ended up in hospital.
They found that even minor injuries led to a 70 per cent increase in the placenta detaching from the womb, a 54 per cent increase in induced labour and 34 per cent increase in prolonged contractions.
Writing in the journal BMJ Injury Prevention, Dr Chung-Yi Li, of the National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan, said: “These findings reinforce the fact that healthcare workers should be aware of these effects and consider providing pregnant women with educational materials about road traffic safety and choice of vehicle while travelling during pregnancy.
“Given the associations observed, a better understanding is needed in future research of the circumstance following crashes during pregnancy in order to develop effective management.”
Previous research by the University of Toronto in 2014, showed that pregnant drivers have a 42 per cent increased risk of being involved in a car crash in their second trimester.
At the time, experts suggested that the brain fogs and cognitive lapses often associated with pregnancy could be to blame.
Researchers warned that pregnant women often worry about tiny risks associated with flying, scuba diving, or hot tubs, yet overlook the much more serious increased risk from a traffic accident.
They recommended that good prenatal care should include taking fewer risks when driving.
The new study showed women who were more seriously injured in crashes were at far greater risk of birth complications.
Those admitted to hospital within three days of a car crash were nearly six times more likely to experience placental abruption, where the placenta detaches from the womb.
They were also at significantly increased risk of heavy bleeding before birth, C-section delivery, and delivering underweight babies.
Women who had been severely injured in the collision were four times more likely than healthy women to experience placental abruption, 61 per cent more likely to need a C-section, and 80 per cent more likely to deliver prematurely than those who hadn’t been injured.
A study published last year found that babies are up to twice as likely to be born with cerebral palsy if their mother was involved in a car accident or fell while pregnant.
Researchers found that the risk of a child being diagnosed with cerebral palsy rose by 33 per cent from any accident, and more than doubled for women who were hospitalised and gave birth within a week.
Experts said accidents may damage the placenta or impede blood supply to the baby.
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