What Are the Dangers of Radiation During Pregnancy?

by Aileen Chen

Pregnancy woman talking on cell, laptop in lapWith so much conflicting evidence out there regarding radiation and its impact on our health, what should or shouldn't we be concerned about? This topic has received an increasing amount of attention recently from scientists, politicians, and the media. However, today, all we can say with certainty is that we are not certain what the health risks are, leaving many expecting parents confused.

New legislation has been sprouting up around the country to require labeling on cell phones about their radiation levels and potential health risks. Globally, countries such as Australia, Finland, Israel, France, and others have taken steps to ban or reduce usage by young children.

Much of this is in response to new studies and assessments of long-term cell phone use by the World Health Organization and European Commission. The concern stems from how rapidly we have moved towards wireless technology. Ten years ago cell phones, laptops and wireless networks were not commonplace. Today they are everywhere.

Potential Health Risks

The body of evidence about health risks is very mixed. Some studies have shown no biological effect from low-level radiation; but many studies have warned of risks. Pregnancy-related studies that cited risks encompassing fertility and miscarriage, cancer/childhood leukemia, and genetic/ developmental disruptions.

Compared to the x-rays you receive at the dentist's office, the low-level radiation from cell phones, computers, microwaves, and other electronic devices have much less energy. The known negative impacts from x-rays (that are strong enough to detach electrons from atoms) do not apply to the low-level radiation from everyday devices. Any impacts from everyday radiation are much more subtle and may impact the way that DNA is replicated and the way that cells grow and do their jobs.

Researchers still do not fully understand exactly how low-level radiation effects our DNA and cells. In multiple studies, they have observed correlations between low-level radiation from computers and power lines to occurrences of miscarriages and childhood leukemia, but this does not necessarily mean causation a cause-and-effect relationship. The World Health Organization classifies such environmental risks as "possibly carcinogenic" and states that "overall, the studies on residential ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) magnetic field exposure have provided some limited evidence for increased miscarriage risk associated with magnetic field exposure."

Many institutions have assessed the body of scientific evidence on health risks from radiation, and their conclusions are as varied as the studies they are looking at. The WHO, FDA, and FCC maintain that there is no compelling evidence of health risks when devices are used properly (e.g. cell phones and laptops are held at least an inch away from the body); but they still recommend following the "precautionary principle" in light of the uncertainty. Other institutions such as the Environmental Working Group, President's Cancer Council, and National Research Council all assert that there are not enough precautions being taken today given the evidence available to us.

Minimizing Your Baby's Exposure

Modern technology has undeniable benefits to technology and our electronics can be great tools to help us through pregnancy. It is likely an over-reaction to eliminate these things from our daily lives.

The alternative? Understand the uncertainty and take precautions when possible. Find a balance between convenience and caution. You may want to take special care if you are having trouble conceiving, have had previous miscarriages, or have a history of cancer in your family.

Otherwise, there are many small changes in daily habits that can significantly reduce radiation exposure during your pregnancy.

  • Use headsets or speakerphone while on your cell phone. When you have the option, use a landline and limit the time on your cell phone.
  • Don't set your laptop on your lap. Always work with it on the desk or at least with a lap desk or laptop cooler between you and the laptop.
  • Be aware of the time spent using electronics and, when possible, increase the distance between yourself and electronic devices - particularly appliances that use high rotation or air flow, such as hair dryers, vacuum cleaners, blenders, etc.
  • Turn off unused electronics around the house.
  • Use shielding products that shield the majority of your radiation exposure when used while working on your laptop or on your cell phone.

It is important to keep the risks from low-level radiation in context with other known risks. The dangers from poor nutrition or alcohol consumption are likely much greater than those from radiation exposure; but when there are easy things to do to reduce exposure, we should avoid taking unnecessary risk.

Aileen Chen has been a long-time advocate of health issues surrounding EMF radiation. The mother of a beautiful baby girl, Aileen focuses on health implications for young children and during pregnancy. Regularly speaking on the topic and organizing awareness campaigns, she strives to educate about the state of the science, putting potential risks in context and emphasizing the need to balance these risks with the realities of modern-day life. Aileen is the founder and CEO of Belly Armor, a source for information and tools to help expecting women and families understand and protect against the risks of everyday radiation.

Copyright © Aileen Chen. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.