March 11 (Reuters) - Despite some women's worry that seat belts or air bags could harm a baby in utero in the case of an accident, expectant mothers who are not wearing a seatbelt during a car crash are more likely to lose the pregnancy, according to a U.S. study.
The results, which appeared in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, reinforce the findings of other studies that link seat belts with better chances of keeping both mother and baby alive.
"One thing we're always concerned about is (educating) patients on seatbelt use," said senior author Haywood Brown, the chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Duke University Medical Center.
"Nonetheless, like all individuals, some choose and so do not choose to wear their seatbelt."
To bet a better sense of which women don't use restraints and how that affects the outcome of their pregnancies, Brown and his colleagues searched through a trauma registry at Duke University Hospital.
They found 126 cases of women in their second and third trimesters who had been in a car crash and cared for at the hospital between 1994 and 2010.
Three fetuses, or 3.5 percent, died among the 86 mothers who were wearing a seatbelt during the accident. Another three - 25 percent in this case - died among the 12 mothers who were not wearing a seatbelt.
"The worst thing you can do is have the mother get hurt, and the best way to protect the mother and protect the baby is to have the mother wear a seatbelt," said Kathleen DeSantis Klinich, a researcher at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, who wasn't part of the study.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that seat belts should be worn at all times, and the lap belt should be fitted low across the hip bones, below the belly.
Women without a seatbelt were more likely to be first-time mothers than those who wore a seatbelt. Brown said it's possible that the habit of buckling in children might prompt mothers to put on their own seatbelt.
Airbags came out in 17 of the accidents, and in those cases the mother was more likely to experience the placenta separating from the uterus - a condition that can be fatal for the mother or the fetus.
Catherine Vladutiu, a researcher at the University of North Carolina who was not involved with this research, said it's likely the airbag itself is not to blame for such serious consequences.
"I think the airbag is a function of how severe the crash was, so it's hard to ease out whether that had any direct effect on fetal demise," she told Reuters Health. "I would err on the side of (considering it) an indicator of crash severity."
Brown said that some women will disarm the airbag for fear that it will damage the baby in case of a crash, but "it's not the smart thing to do because it will save your life if the airbag comes out."
Klinich agreed, noting that her research had found that airbags, if anything, are beneficial because they protect the mother.
"The bottom line is, you've got to wear your restraint because it decreases the risk not only for your injuries but injury to your child," Brown said. SOURCE: htttp://bit.ly/10eypd8 (Reporting from New York by Kerry Grens at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies)