How Do X-Rays Affect Pregnancy?

Exposure to the kind of high-energy radiation needed to take X-rays can effectively be harmful to babies. X-ray radiation affects areas like your eyes and can even cause intellectual disability.
How Do X-Rays Affect Pregnancy?
María Belén Del Río

Reviewed and approved by the doctor María Belén Del Río.

Written by Naí Botello

Last update: 27 December, 2022

Medically, X-rays are used as a diagnostic tool for identifying pathologies in our bodies. X-rays allow doctors to observe specific body parts with high precision, including the bones and organs. Given that doctors always warn pregnant women about their use, we want to tell you about how X-rays affect pregnancy.

This technique is possible thanks to the emission of gamma radiation, with which radiologists obtain high-contrast images. It’s clear that, if there’s a medical emergency, diagnostic techniques like these are imperative for giving an accurate diagnosis. However, as we mentioned before, X-rays can affect pregnancy.

Without a doubt, it’s generally common sense that pregnant women should never expose themselves to the risks of radiation. The most direct consequences for the fetus include eye malformations or even mental retardation.

However, rest assured that the latter only occurs if the mother is exposed to radiation levels equal to or greater than 10 rads.

Therefore, don’t worry if you’ve had an X-ray taken before you knew you were pregnant. Below, we’ll indicate what levels of radiation are required for reproducing an imaging plate, and you’ll see that, in most cases, they never reach the 10 rad limit.

How do X-rays affect pregnancy?

When an X-ray is taken, the pregnant woman must necessarily be exposed to ionizing radiation. These emanations are the only ones that allow us to observe any part of the body: bones, viscera, organs, and teeth, among others.

However, for these levels of radiation to harm the fetus, two exact conditions must be met. The first depends on the number of weeks that the mother is pregnant, while the second has to do with the dose of radiation.

How Do X-Rays Affect Pregnancy?

First, we’ll discuss the effects of ionizing radiation according to the gestation period. Evidence indicates that exposing a pregnant woman to X-ray radiation before the embryo has implanted itself in the uterus increases her chances of losing the baby by as much as 50%.

Although it’s deplorable when implantation doesn’t occur due to radiation, the consequences could be worse. The most severe effects will occur between the third and eighth week of pregnancy. This is the moment when it’s going to be possible for the fetus to develop congenital disabilities.

Among the problems that can occur, damages to the central nervous system are the most serious. Experts note that the closer the fetus is to its first weeks of life, the more likely it is to be affected.

“Exposing a pregnant woman to X-ray radiation before the embryo has implanted itself in the uterus, increases her chances of losing the baby by as much as 50%.”

Risk due to high doses of radiation

The good news is that not just any form of exposure to radiation can affect the fetus. The radiologist will always place lead plates over the body’s most important areas, to prevent radiation from penetrating the body.

Also, as a safety protocol, the doctor always asks the patient if she’s pregnant or suspects that she’s pregnant. Likewise, nowadays, we have plates of varying thickness so that they emit the least amount of radiation possible.

How Do X-Rays Affect Pregnancy?

Either way, to conclude, we’ll offer the exact data regarding harmful radiation levels. In case of a medical emergency, you can communicate this with your radiologist or your family doctor.

For the radiation levels to affect the fetus, they must be equal to or greater than 10 rads, also known as 100 milligrays (mGy). To give you a better idea, a belly plate transmits 2.5 mGy; while pelvic plate, prescribed to some pregnant women before delivery, only emanate two mGy.

This means that a pregnant woman can’t receive 100 mGy (10 rads), even if she receives a dozen X-rays in a day.

As a final recommendation, we invite you, in case of a medical emergency, to always talk with your doctor first. If you think you’re pregnant, always ask that they protect you with the lead plate used for pregnant patients.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.