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Are X-rays safe while pregnant?

Whether or not the X-ray will harm the foetus depends largely on the type of X-ray and exactly how much radiation you will be exposed to. Generally, the higher the level of radiation, the greater the risk will be to the baby. Low level radiation X-rays, such as dental X-rays, should not expose your baby to high enough levels of radiation to cause harm.

The strength of X-rays is measured in radians or rads, which are the units that measure the quantity of radiation that is absorbed by the body. It has been established that exposing a foetus to more than ten radians increases the risk of learning disabilities and eye problems. Most modern X-rays are much weaker than ten radians. It's rare for X-rays to be greater than five radians.

The radiation that the foetus would be exposed to in a dental X-ray is only 0.01 millirad. One radian is equal to 1,000 millirads, it would require 100,000 dental X-rays for the baby to receive just one rad. Other typical X-rays contain:
  • 60 millirads for a chest X-ray
  • 290 millirads for an abdominal X-ray
  • 800 millirads for a computerised tomographic (CT) scan (these are not usually offered during pregnancy)
To keep everything in perspective, the average foetus will be exposed to about 100 millirads of naturally occurring radiation (from the sun and earth itself) during the pregnancy.

Your obstetrician may advise you to postpone getting any unnecessary X-rays until after your baby is born, even though the risk from X-rays is low. But, don’t be overly concerned if your obstetrician at some point during the pregnancy feels that an X-ray is required for a particular medical situation, since the amount of radiation will be within safe ranges. Just make sure the radiographer knows that you are pregnant, so that you can be shielded properly.

Speak with your employer about ways to reduce or eliminate your exposure to radiation if you work in areas where there is radiation. You may want to wear a special film badge to monitor the amount of radiation that you receive. The badges can be regularly checked to make sure that you and the baby is safe. If you think your employer isn't addressing safety issues adequately, contact your local government agency that supervises workplace safety.

Talk to your oncologist about the amount of radiation foetus may have obtained, if you received radiation for cancer therapy before learning you were pregnant.
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