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Pregnancy and X-Rays: Should You Be Concerned?

So here’s the complete and honest truth, most scientists disagree as to exactly what amount of damage brief and low radiation x-rays pose to your fetus. They agree that the effects may be small, but they don’t know how it affects an unborn baby, how much is safe, or at what level does it cross to dangerous levels. Still, most health care providers wish to protect the very sensitive being a mother carries inside, so they do take precautions.

The first few months of a pregnancy is the time of rapid growth and cell replication in the fetus. Spinal cells, brain cells, and other important organs begin to differentiate during this period. The rest of the pregnancy remains very critical for the baby’s development as well. A mom has every right to be concerned whether an X-ray procedure will harm her unborn child.

So here are some things you can expect regarding X-ray examinations:

  • Verifying whether you are pregnant. You must tell your x-ray technologist if you are pregnant. The way they handle the proceedings may change depending on whether you are with child or not. If you suspect that you are pregnant, they may either delay the exam or take precautions as if you’re pregnant without physician verification.

  • Exams that do not involve abdominal area. They may use a radiation shield made of lead, much like the ones you encounter at the dentist’s office. This blocks 90-100% of the radiation. Make sure that the shield you’re being given has no tears in them. Ask that they change the shield if there are any tears or holes. This is not usually a concern, as most hospitals and facilities are diligent in keeping up-to-date and well-kept items.

  • Exams that involve the abdominal area. Speak with your health care provider who ordered the exam about the implication of the procedure. Often, the exam is necessary and the benefits outweigh the risks. If it is not necessary, and you feel uncomfortable having it performed, the x-ray may be delayed until you have given birth. And again, before you come to this conclusion, seek your doctor’s opinion and recommendation.

  • Exams that involve your child while you are pregnant. Opt to have someone else hold your child. You can also perform this function with the proper protective apron shield that covers your abdominal area.

  • X-rays at the airport. The metal detectors at the airport emit low frequency electromagnetic field that is considered safe for everyone, including a pregnant woman. They are not x-rays and are therefore not a cause for concern. The wand they use to scan the body also does not use x-ray and are also safe. Some airport security, however, now uses new biometric technology that scans the body. One does emit x-ray and is called a “backscatter” machine. The other is the “millimeter wave” machine, and it does not emit radiation. The Transportation and Safety Authority (TSA) claim that the backscatter machine is safe even for pregnant women. If you have concerns, you may opt out of using this machine and ask to be pat down instead. It is your right. Simply inform them you are pregnant, and do not wish to use the backscatter body-scanning machine. They should accommodate your request and obtain a female employee to perform the pat down.

  • What if you had x-rays done before you knew you were pregnant? I know it’s hard not to worry but the risk is considered very small. If you need to allay your fears, bring up your concern with your doctor.

An x-ray procedure is usually performed for an important diagnostic of safety purpose. It’s important to stay safe during these proceedings, to ask questions and raise concerns if you have any. It’s all right to be diligent, and normal to worry. Remember that professionals performing these tests will take precautions if you are pregnant, and will accommodate your requests if they are reasonable.


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