There were sh*ts and giggles when I was delivered a Ford “empathy belly” suit to try out – it’s a heavy suit that emulates a pregnancy (complete with boobs, weights and a water bottle to give a sense of a full bladder). But on a more serious note, this suit is worn by Ford testers to ensure they produce cars that are safe and comfortable for pregnant women. Since I’ve already been through pregnancy, I gave the suit to my other half, Saul Kropman, to try out. Here are his post-“pregnancy” findings, plus some of Ford’s buying and safety tips:
I recently sold my two-seater sports car in order to buy a more responsible family friendly vehicle that didn’t entail putting a child in the boot. Now that I am driving a four-door, four-seat car with a toddler car seat in the back.
I was given the opportunity to take it to the next level by Ford with what’s called an “empathy belly”. To simulate pregnancy among its engineers both male and female Ford employees use the belly. The idea is to see how easy it is for a pregnant woman to get into a car, how they might be affected by parts of the car such as a seatbelt and how an impact might affect a pregnancy.
The empathy belly is interesting to say the least: you require instructions on how to put the jacket on (suck your stomach in, strap on the waist attachment, put the vest on and try not to fondle the boobs) and the first thing you’ll notice in an urge to go to the bathroom.
As a test I got into my car (more like fell into the seat) and the first thing I noticed was the difficulty with closing the door. Stretching forward is a challenge when you have a massive stomach and I actually sat there laughing, unsure of how to get the door closed for about a minute. After a bit of huffing and puffing I got the door closed and went for a drive. The first thing I noticed was that every time I went around a corner something pressed on my kidneys making me want to stop to use the bathroom. This is not a fun lifestyle.
I kept the vest on for around another 20 minutes and took it off after I started feeling physically ill. Yes, I am a man so we have zero pain threshold but more importantly I don’t know how a woman does this for nine months. I actually went to sleep exhausted from my 30-minute stint with the empathy belly.
The moral of the story is simple: if Ford goes through the effort to wear a torture device such as the empathy belly to test if you’ll be safe, then I think they’ve got your best interests – and cars – at heart.
Thing to look for when choosing a car:
The depth and position of the rocker panel: This is the area that the driver and passenger need to step over to get into and out of a car. If the rocker panel is too deep the driver might have trouble swinging her feet over the rocker panel when getting in and out.
Height of the roof panel: While pregnant, the size of a woman’s belly might limit her range of movement. This includes the ability to bend when entering a car. Check the roof height to ensure that the beautiful sleek roof design does not get in the way when trying to enter the car.
The seat bolsters: Sports seats with the typically large seat bolsters that hug the driver’s thighs provide the ultimate support when exploring the limits of a car, but can limit the ability of a pregnant woman to easily get in and out of a car.
Steering column that is adjustable for height and reach: Allowing the steering to adjust for rake (height) and reach provides for the greatest range of adjustment before, during and after pregnancy. Steering columns that only adjust for rake can limit a pregnant driver’s comfort and affect their safety in an emergency situation.
Tips for expectant mothers
Wear your seatbelt correctly – Make sure that your seatbelt is positioned below your abdomen, across your hips. The shoulder strap should be between your breasts, and make sure to tug on the belt to make sure it’s nice and snug.
Move back – Move your seat back to a comfortable distance when you are driving. Reclining the seat slightly can also help. Doing this will protect your stomach in the event of an airbag deployment.
Support your back – If you have pregnancy-related back pain, place a small circular back pillow to support your lower back or use a rolled up towel. This will help increase comfort while you’re driving.
Take a break – If you’re driving for a lengthy period, take regular breaks to increase blood flow to your feet. Feet and ankles are prone to swelling and it can worsen by sitting for long periods. Take a break to gently move your feet around, rotate your ankles, and wiggle your toes.
Be the passenger – When possible, be a passenger. Sitting in the backseat is the safest spot in the car for an expectant mother. If you sit in the front seat, make sure to push the seat back as far as you can to protect from airbag deployment.
Have your information –Wherever you go, make sure to bring a long your pregnancy record card, which includes a detailed list of medical information, test results, and emergency contacts.