It’s that most wonderful, soggy time of year -- winter. We all know winter can be a flurry of activity: rushing to catch post-holiday sales, hosting friends and family, putting up and taking down the lights and decor, and all the while, managing your normal (and long) to-do list of work, house, and life. And this year, you’re pregnant too? Girl, are one superwoman!
But even a superwoman can have her bad days. Sometimes, it only takes a stray bunny slipper on the stairs to take us down. Or it could be someone calling us while we’re walking and multitasking, or an older child wailing for our attention when we’re about to turn, and whoops…we’ve taken a fall. Ouch.
Falling while pregnant can be especially worrying. Our mothering instincts immediately raise red flags and run through worse-case scenarios. Is my baby going to be OK? Am I OK? Should I see a doctor?
Before our heads spin into a blizzard of anxious questioning, let’s review 7 important things to remember if you fall during your pregnancy, and some handy tips to help you survive these slippery times
7 Your Body is Designed to Protect Your Baby.
Your unborn baby is fragile, but she has the best armor ever -- your body. Our bodies are designed to be the safest, strongest and most nourishing place for our babies to grow.
Will an accidental tumble hurt your baby? Not likely.
Your baby is sitting in the uterus (or womb,) surrounded by three layers of strong uterine muscles. These muscles’ names are endometrium--an inner lining, myometrium--a middle muscular layer, and perimetrium--an outer layer.
Within the uterus, the baby is wrapped in an amniotic sac filled with fluid, which acts as a shock-absorbing, liquid cushion. Very early on in the pregnancy, the entire uterus becomes tucked behind the pelvic bone, giving it added protection. With all the layers of muscle, bone, and fluid, it would take quite a strong impact to affect your baby.
The seriousness of a fall also depends on several factors:
- How you fell – As long as your abdomen didn’t take a direct hit, you should be fine. Many people fall on their backs or sides, or land on their feet and twist their ankle, all of which would likely not harm the baby.
- Where you fell – Falling on a hard or uneven surface presents a greater risk than falling on a more forgiving surface.
- Stage of pregnancy – Falls become riskier as a mother approaches the last stages of pregnancy. This is when the baby is largest and closest to the surface of the body.
- Age – For women over 35, falling during pregnancy is riskier.
6 Unless Certain Symptoms Occur, There’s No Need to Worry
Although most falls cause no embarrassment than harm, or a surface bruise or two, do seek medical help if you experience any of these symptoms:
- Severe or prolonged pain
- Vaginal bleeding
- Leaking amniotic fluid
- Uterine contractions
- Decrease in fetal movement
- Soreness in abdomen, uterus or pelvis
If you received a direct blow to your abdomen, it’s wise to consult a medical professional. To ensure that you and your baby are OK, your doctor or midwife may order an ultrasound.
The concern for falls during late pregnancy is the risk of premature labor and delivery. If you fall down closer to your due date, your doctor or midwife may use
External Fetal Monitoring (EFM) to check that you’re not starting preterm labor.
According to doctor and author Michele Gliksman, in the rare case that damage occurs from a fall, it would most likely affect the placenta, the organ attached to the uterine wall responsible for nourishing the baby and carrying away waste.
Gliksman notes that distress to the abdomen can cause the placenta to detach from the uterine lining, a serious condition that needs immediate care. Notify your physician immediately if you notice any spotting, leaking fluid, abdominal cramps, or pain.
5 Falling is More Common Than You Think
According to a study published in Maternal and Child Health Journal, 1 in 4 pregnant women experience a fall, and 1 in 10 pregnant women fall two or more times. Out of these falls, 10% of cases were considered serious enough to seek medical attention.
Most falls were caused by slippery floors, wearing inappropriate shoes, such as high-heels, and forgetting to use safety measures, such as not holding onto the handrails while going down the stairs.
Carrying too many things was a factor in 28.7% of falls – that’s almost a third of all incidents. Yikes! No more latte-plus-laptop-plus-smartphone-plus-whatever journeys down the hall.
The report noted that carrying extra loads put your sight of your feet and the floor in jeopardy. In other words, if you can’t see your feet (which are already disappearing under that belly-globe) or where you’re walking – watch out because you might fall.
Researchers behind the study were concerned that most falls occurred during the last trimester when women are at increased risk of preterm labor.
Younger women, interestingly, are more likely to fall during pregnancy. According to a study by the University of Cincinnati, younger women aged 20-24 had a higher odds for falls. Moreover, women with lower education, with no permanent partner, who care for young children, or who had gestational diabetes were also at higher risk for falls.
Having a pre-pregnancy vision or balance problems were risk factors for serious falls. Additionally, falls that occurred when a woman was feeling unwell, or falls that occurred later in the day (after 2:30 pm) were more likely to be serious.
On the other hand, college graduates were less likely to experience a serious fall. A whopping 78.7% of the falls were associated with stairs, slippery or uneven floors, hurrying, carrying things or holding a toddler. Take note, because this means that the majority of falls are preventable.
The report concluded that because pregnant women fall at a rate comparable with the elderly, health practitioners should counsel pregnant mothers on how to stay safe.
4 It’s Not Your Fault, So Don’t Blame Yourself
Falling is painful and embarrassing. Afterward, it’s easy to get caught up in self-condemning thoughts. But really, it’s only natural at this stage in life to be a little less graceful than usual. Here’s why:
A shifted center of balance
A pregnant woman’s growing body shifts her center of gravity, making it harder for her to balance. This effect is aggravated by certain shoes – like high heels -- that tilt her weight forward. Increased weight being carried by her middle parts, the abdomen and hips, makes her more susceptible to falls. This is especially true during the third trimester when the baby is most fully-developed and the abdomen most expanded.
Loosened joints and ligaments
The pregnancy hormone relaxin loosens her joints and ligaments, preparing her body to be flexible and stretchy during delivery. Having looser joints will increase the likelihood of falls.
Dizziness and general malaise
Third, it is common to feel dizzy during pregnancy, whether it’s from low blood sugar, low blood pressure, morning sickness, or other causes. Throughout the various stages of pregnancy, a mother may feel exhausted, uncomfortable, preoccupied, and emotionally overwhelmed. Considering all these factors, who can blame a girl for slipping?
3 Fall-proof Your Home
Now that we know the reasons for our new-found clumsiness, and the causes of falls, it’s time to be prepared and prevent future accidents. Time for a checklist:
- Check that stairs are free of debris. If you have other children in the house, it’s easy to find toys and objects strewed on the floor, which become tripping hazards.
- Improve dimly-lit hallways and staircases by adding a small hall light, or changing the type of light bulb to a brighter one.
- Clean up loose cords and cables.
- No slip, please. Shifty rugs are another tripping hazard. Consider adding a slip-proof mat under rugs or furniture.
- Bye, bye puddles. Falls can occur in wet bathrooms and showers. Wipe up puddles as soon as they appear. Consider using non-slip mats in the bathtub or shower.
2 Get Smart
In addition to improving the safety of your home to prevent accidents, it’s important to take a look at our lifestyles too, making the necessary adjustments for a safe pregnancy.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Many capable women are not used to depending on others, but for safety’s sake, it’s better to ask for a helping hand. Plus, it makes people feel good to help a pregnant lady. Give your family, friends or even strangers a chance to feel proud that they’ve helped you.
- Choose the right footwear. Comfort and safety come first when choosing shoes for the mom-to-be. Avoid shoes that are unsteady, ill-fitting or that tilt your balance forward.
- Lighten the load. Carrying extra loads is associated with many falls. Try using a bag that can combine smaller items into one load (without overloading,) make multiple trips, use a cart with wheels, or ask for help.
- Stick to the safest sports. Rollerblading or ice skating? Um, just say “pass.”
- No climbing, please. Avoid using ladders or stepping on a chair to reach for items on the top shelf. It’s better to get help instead.
- Watch for hazards. Wet floors, uneven pavement, and debris on the ground are all potential tripping hazards, so be on the lookout. As you walk, make sure you can see where you’re going.
- Slow down. Many falls are associated with hurrying, so take it easy.
- Prepare for weather. Winter brings many more risks for falling. Whether it’s rain, snow, leaves or ice, be extra careful by wearing shoes with treads or grip, walking slowly, or holding onto guardrails. If the weather is especially bad, it may be best to stay indoors.
- Get more sleep. Being fatigued can make us a little more clumsy. Rest well, so you can stay focused and alert.
- Take a break, have a snack. If you feel dizzy, do sit down. Try eating small but frequent meals, choosing slow-release foods like whole grain toast or a cereal bar. This can help to keep blood sugar levels even and prevent dizziness.
1 Don’t Worry and Stay Positive
Studies show that maternal stress can affect the baby, so it’s important to keep a happy and relaxed frame of mind. If you’ve had a fall, and you’ve done what was necessary, it’s time to move on and stay positive.
Dwelling on worry, regret or self-blame won’t improve the situation. As long as we take preventative measures to make our homes and lifestyles safer, it’s time to carry on with a happy pregnancy. Move on from the past, and enjoy what’s upcoming: your soon-to-be-born baby, all the naming possibilities, the nursery design and décor, the sweet baby clothes, and on and on.
Have a safe and happy pregnancy this winter!