TUESDAY, Dec. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Air bags save lives in car crashes; that's been established. But now researchers report that the lifesaving quality makes no exception for pregnant women and the babies they're carrying.
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Because air bag deployment has been shown to injure children and infants, there's been a lingering question whether the devices might also injure unborn children, noted the researchers, from the University of Washington.
But they found "that pregnant occupants of motor vehicles with air bags were not at increased risk for pregnancy complications" such as cesarean delivery, fetal distress and low birth weight, said lead researcher Dr. Melissa A. Schiff, a professor of epidemiology.
A report on the study was published online Dec. 21 in Obstetrics & Gynecology.
The researchers collected data on 2,207 pregnant women involved in car accidents, comparing the outcome of accidents in cars with and without air bags.
They found no increased risk for injury to the mother or fetus related to whether the car had air bags or didn't.
They did find a 70 percent increase in preterm labor and a threefold increase in fetal death among those in accidents in which air bags were deployed, compared with cars without air bags. But Schiff said the findings were not statistically significant.
"These findings were inconclusive because we really had too small a sample size," she said. More study will be needed to see if there really is a connection between air bag deployment and preterm labor or fetal death, she said.
"Air bags are safe for most outcomes," but the best protection for pregnant women comes from wearing a seat belt, Schiff said.
Dr. Nathan S. Fox, a clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University School of Medicine, said that "we can't know from a study like this if an air bag deployment may have a minor affect on pregnancy."
But the study shows that there are no major risks with having an air bag deployed, he said.
"Since we know that an air bag deployed in a serious car crash can save your life, it would be unwise to avoid air bags and a theoretical risk of a minor complication," Fox said.
And, he added, "since we know that flying through a windshield is bad for both the mother and the baby, I would encourage people to have air bags."
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SOURCES: Melissa A. Schiff, M.D., M.P.H., professor, epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Washington, Seattle; Nathan S. Fox, M.D., clinical assistant professor, obstetrics and gynecology, New York University School of Medicine, New York City; Dec. 21, 2009, Obstetrics & Gynecology