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Radiation exposure is risky, no matter who you are. That risk increases, however, when the recipient of that exposure is a pregnant woman. Whether you’re currently expecting or just waiting for when that day arrives, familiarizing yourself with the facts around radiation and pregnancy could help keep you and your baby safe.
In this guide, we will break down the different types of radiation to be concerned about, and the effects each type can have on a pregnant woman and unborn baby. We will also go over some ways that you can protect yourself while pregnant.
Let’s get started.
Types of radiation
First, a brief physics lesson.
Radiation is, essentially, energy. This energy takes the form of waves, and the size of the wave dictates the type of radiation it is. Some of this energy is visible, but most of it is not.
On the electromagnetic spectrum, visible light is in the center. As you can see, the wavelength of visible light ranges from roughly about 400 nanometers to 750 nanometers. But in either direction beyond that, you have these other forms of energy with different wavelengths. X-ray radiation, microwaves, radio waves, and more.
At one end of the spectrum, the waves are very small and tight together. These waves have a great deal of energy, and they are referred to broadly as ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation has so much energy that it can actually cause an atom to split — that is why we use it in applications such as atomic bombs. It also can penetrate tissue, making it ideal for medical imaging tests when doctors need to see a patient’s bones or organs.
Types of ionizing radiation include gamma rays, X-rays, and ultraviolet light. Cosmic radiation is also a form of ionizing radiation.
On the other end of the spectrum, the waves are very wide and slow. These waves do not possess a lot of energy. Broadly, we call these waves non-ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radiation is characterized by its lack of energy — unlike its ionizing counterpart, it cannot split an atom.
Radiofrequency waves, microwaves, and infrared light are all forms of non-ionizing radiation. We use different forms of non-ionizing radiation for all kinds of purposes in our daily lives — TV, radio, internet, microwave ovens, and cell phones all make use of non-ionizing radiation to send a signal. Even power lines produce some level of non-ionizing radiation.
To learn more about the different types of radiation, see EMF Radiation: Everything You Need to Know.
Radiation and pregnancy
The side effects of ionizing radiation exposure in the general population are pretty well-known and documented. It can cause various forms of cancer, and at high enough doses it can even result in potentially fatal radiation poisoning. Unless you are on the site of a nuclear disaster, however, it is unlikely that you would be exposed to those levels of radiation, especially during pregnancy.
Rather, medical imaging tests, cosmic radiation, and even airplane radiation are all more realistic sources of exposure to ionizing radiation during pregnancy. And these are all at relatively small levels.
Let’s consider a standard chest x-ray, which results in about .1mSv of radiation exposure over a brief period of time. If the patient is pregnant, a lead vest or other protective device may be placed over the abdomen, as well, helping lower the baby’s exposure to radiation even further. So we are really looking at under .1mSv of ionizing radiation exposure here.
According to the CDC, potential health effects — not including cancer — of radiation exposure generally kick in around .1Gy, which is equivalent to roughly 1,000mSv. At those higher exposure levels, the primary concerns are failure of the embryo to implant itself, or a miscarriage if the pregnancy is further along. But at the typical level of exposure for the average pregnant woman, there are minimal risks.
On the non-ionizing side of things, the risks are a little less understood. Non-ionizing radiation is generally said not to be harmful because it can’t split an atom. There is some evidence, however, that this type of radiation could actually contribute to a few different health effects, and one of those is miscarriages in pregnant women.
The National Institute of Environmental Health funded a study into that exact subject. Researchers outfit a group of 913 pregnant women with small devices that monitored magnetic field exposure. The women wore the devices for 24 hours as they went about their normal daily activities, and then researchers collected the measurement devices.
Even when controlling for variables such as caffeine intake, alcohol use, and other factors that could contribute to a pregnancy loss, the results of the study indicated a strong relationship between magnetic field exposure on a typical day and miscarriage. Out of the women who were in the lowest percentile of exposure, 10.4% experienced a miscarriage. On the other hand, those in the highest percentile of exposure, 24.2% suffered a pregnancy loss.
For comparison’s sake, the average rate of miscarriage is between 10 and 15 percent.
It’s worth noting that miscarriage may not be the only impact of non-ionizing radiation on pregnant women or their babies. It is simply the only side effect that has been studied. There is also the possibility that the child could go on to have other health issues later in life as a result of radiation exposure in the womb.
Radiation protection in pregnancy
The safest bet during pregnancy is to avoid radiation in all forms as much as possible. If you require a medical procedure such as an X-ray where ionizing radiation may be present, ask your doctor about any safety precautions you may take, such as wearing a lead vest. Discussing your concerns with your doctor can help you determine whether the risks outweigh the benefits.
Reducing your exposure to non-ionizing radiation is a bit tricker. There are some definite steps to take that can be quite helpful, however.
- Reduce your cell phone usage. Cell phones are huge producers of EMF radiation, and, to make matters worse, we tend to hold them close to the body while texting, surfing the internet, or playing games. While there are things you can do to lower your phone’s EMF output, which we will get to next, it is also a good idea to lower the amount of time you spend on your device.
- Use a protective cell phone case. There are cases out there that can actually reduce the amount of EMF radiation your phone puts off. One such case is from RF Safe. Their Radiation Shield Flip Phone case helps direct EMF radiation away from the body while still allowing the phone to maintain its signal. We give some other suggestions for protective cases in our guide to the best EMF protection cell phone cases.
- Put your phone in airplane mode at night. Another simple thing you can do to lower your exposure to cell phone radiation is to either turn it off or switch it into airplane mode while you sleep. This may not help much during the day, but it will result in less EMF exposure overall. As an added bonus, you can get a much more restorative sleep when you are surrounded by less EMF radiation.
- Turn off your WiFi at night. This is an easy step you can take, as well, either through setting up an automatic timer using your WiFi router’s accompanying software or by unplugging the device each night before bed. Another option that is even more effective but also a little more work is to switch to a wired connection for your entire house.
- Try a WiFi router guard. Router guards create a sort of Faraday cage around your wireless router, drastically reducing its EMF output. There are many different options out there, from cages to bags, but they all operate on the same basic principle — stopping the bulk of EMF radiation produced by the device from reaching the rest of your home. One option is Smart Meter Guard’s WiFi Router Guard. We cover that, and several others, in our guide to WiFi router guards.
- Be mindful of your smart meter. Smart meters are another huge source of non-ionizing radiation in some households. If your city uses them, consider investing in a smart meter cover such as Smart Meter Guard’s EMF Cover. We talk more about identifying if your home has a smart meter and how to protect yourself in our guide to smart meter radiation.
- Try a radiation pregnancy blanket. These blankets are made from protective fabric and can be draped over your stomach as you use electronic devices or sleep at night. One option is Radia Smart’s Organic Protective Belly Pregnancy Blanket, which shields against 99.9% of EMF radiation.
- Invest in protective clothing. EMF protective clothing helps shield you from surrounding EMF radiation while you’re on the go. This can be especially beneficial when you are pregnant, and some manufacturers even make designated protective maternity clothing. Take, for example, Radia Smart’s EMF Protective Belly Band. This simply band is 90%+ effective effective against a wide range of frequencies and wraps around the torso, helping to keep your baby safe.
- Install an EMF bed canopy. If reducing your EMF exposure in the bedroom is proving difficult, an EMF bed canopy can help. These canopies drape over your bed, creating a barrier that most EMF radiation cannot penetrate through. We recommend BlocSilver’s EMF Shielding Bed Canopy as it is see-through enough to allow light in, while strong enough to block frequencies up to 40GHz.
Our guide to whole house EMF protection gives some other tips for lowering your home’s EMF radiation levels. It also talks about how you can find out exactly how much EMF radiation is present in your home.
Lowering your radiation exposure during pregnancy can be beneficial for both your baby’s health and your own. Don’t let down your guard once your little one is born, however. Our guide to EMF protection for infants and babies dives into why babies are so vulnerable to radiation and what you can do to protect them.