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Trauma in Pregnancy

Brown, Haywood L. MD

doi: 10.1097/AOG.0b013e3181ab6014
Clinical Expert Series
Expert Discussion

Acute traumatic injury during pregnancy is a significant contributor to maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality in the United States. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of injury-related maternal death, followed by violence and assault. Lack of seat belts or other restraints increases the risks of both maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends proper seat belt use by all pregnant women and screening for domestic abuse. Maternal injury and death from physical abuse is prevalent, and in some communities, homicide is a major cause of pregnancy-associated maternal death. Blunt trauma most often occurs as a result of motor vehicle accidents, whereas penetrating trauma results from gunshots or stabbings. Blunt trauma to the abdomen increases the risk for placental abruption, and direct fetal injury is more likely with penetrating trauma. Management strategies in acute maternal trauma must focus on a thorough assessment of the mother. A coordinated team effort that includes the obstetrician is essential to ensure optimal maternal and fetal outcomes. Imaging studies should not be delayed because of concerns of fetal radiation exposure, because the risk is minimal with usual imaging procedures, especially in mid-to-late pregnancy. The obstetrician should serve in a consultative role if nonobstetric surgical care is required and must also be prepared to intervene on behalf of the mother and the fetus if trauma care is compromised by the pregnancy. Perimortem cesarean delivery should be considered early in the resuscitation of a pregnant trauma victim, especially when fetal viability is a concern. Once the mother is stabilized in the emergency setting, she should be transported for appropriate maternal and fetal observation until both mother and fetus are clear of danger. It is essential that the clinician and staff maintain thorough and accurate documentation and recording of the chronology of events, the maternal and fetal assessment, and the management and outcome of the pregnancy.

Traumatic injuries are a significant source of hospitalizations during pregnancy and require a coordinated clinical team effort to decrease maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality.

From the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina.

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Corresponding author: Haywood L. Brown, MD, Professor and Chair, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Duke University Medical Center, Box 3084, 203 Baker House, Durham, NC 27710; e-mail:

Financial Disclosure The author did not report any potential conflicts of interest.

© 2009 by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.