Motor vehicle crashes during pregnancy may be associated with an increased risk of cerebral palsy among children born premature, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. The finding emphasizes traffic safety as a factor in prenatal care.
The study “Motor vehicle crashes during pregnancy and cerebral palsy during infancy: a longitudinal cohort analysis,” by researchers led by Prof. Jon Barrett of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Toronto, analyzed more than 1.3 million children who were born in Ontario from April 1, 2002 to March 31, 2012.
The team found that the mothers of almost 8,000 children had been involved in a motor vehicle crash while pregnant. Thirty-eight women were involved in more than one crash, and 52 women gave birth within 48 hours after a crash. Among all of the children born to mothers who were in crashes, 2,328 were eventually diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
Researchers found that motor vehicle crashes correlated with a 29 percent increased risk of subsequent cerebral palsy diagnosis — an increase not considered statistically significant. But when the team analyzed a subset composed of children born prematurely, they arrived at an 89 percent increased risk for cerebral palsy.
“Our data suggest that a motor vehicle crash during pregnancy might increase the subsequent risk of cerebral palsy in cases of preterm birth,” the researchers concluded in their report. “These results highlight an opportunity around prenatal traffic safety counseling for reducing the risks to a developing fetus. Injuries due to motor vehicle crashes may be particularly important and relevant since they are often preventable by following standard safety warnings. Avoiding a crash might possibly prevent a wide range of disability.”
It is estimated that about 25 children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy every day in the U.S. Risk factors associated with the condition include premature birth, genetics, multiple pregnancies, infections affecting the mother while she was pregnant, and perinatal asphyxia or oxygen deprivation during birth. However, most cases of cerebral palsy are unexplained and are thought to be caused by an unidentified injury during brain development.