Should Pregnant Women Worry About X-Rays?

If you break a bone or get into a car accident while pregnant, a health care provider may need to give you a scan, such as an X-ray, to see what’s going on. But wait—isn’t that dangerous for your baby? 

Probably not. According to the FDA, the risk to you and your unborn child is very small. In fact, the risk of not having a needed X-ray could be greater than the risk from the radiation.

How Safe Are X-Rays?

X-rays of the arms, legs, head, teeth, or chest don’t expose your reproductive organs to the direct X-ray beam. As a result, these procedures don’t pose any risk to your baby. It’s X-ray examinations involving the abdomen or lower torso that may expose your unborn child to radiation. 

You’ll probably never need an abdominal X-ray during pregnancy. But if it does happen, don’t be upset—remember that the possibility of any harm to your baby from an X-ray is very small. Most researchers agree that unborn children who receive a small dose of radiation do not have an increased risk for birth defects. What’s more, the American College of Radiology reports that no single diagnostic X-ray procedure has enough radiation to threaten the well-being of a developing baby. 

Minimize Your Risk

Even though X-rays are generally safe, you can take a few precautions. First, always tell your provider or radiologist if there is a chance you may be pregnant. In addition:

  • Ask for a lead apron to block radiation to your abdomen.

  • Ask what other scans are available and the benefits and risks of each. Some types of scans, such as ultrasound and MRI, are safer than others.

  • Schedule the scan for after the baby is born, if it’s something that can wait.

Talk with your health care provider if you have questions about radiation during pregnancy.