Understanding All Things Radiation Protection & Pregnancy

Radiation Safety

Understanding All Things Radiation Protection & Pregnancy

If you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, understanding the dangers of radiation exposure is very important. 

It's recommended you discuss any questions or concerns with your doctor. Also, be sure to always inform a health professional that you are pregnant before having any medical imaging performed. Precautions must be adhered to when dealing with pregnancy and medical radiation as well as occupational radiation. 

We hope you find this article informative, and as always, we look forward to hearing your feedback! 

Radiation Exposure to a Fetus 

The most common ways that a pregnant woman can be exposed to radiation are undergoing diagnostic imaging (for example x-rays), radiation therapy (generally used as a treatment for cancer), or an occupational exposure within regulatory limits. 

Diagnostic imaging and occupational exposure within regulatory limits are not likely to cause any health effects for a fetus. While radiation therapy is known to have negative effects during pregnancy. 

There are also circumstances where accidental or intentional exposure above regulatory limits can be cause for concern. 

The general principle for imaging during pregnancy is similar to imaging for the general population, with the goal of radiation exposure being as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA). 

To learn more about the principles of radiation safety, please refer to our recent blog. "Radiation Safety Programs: A Comprehensive Guide." 

Calculating and Understanding Radiation Dose to the Fetus 

The potential health effects to a fetus from prenatal radiation exposure mostly depend on the radiation dose. 

Though the human embryo and fetus are sensitive to ionizing radiation doses greater than 0.1 gray (Gy), the fetal radiation dose tends to be lower than the radiation dose to the mother. This is due to protection provided by the uterus and surrounding tissues. 

Depending on the development stage of the fetus, the health consequences of exposure to a significant radiation dose greater than 0.5 Gy can be severe. This is true even if the dose is too low to cause an immediate effect for the mother. 

The health effects can include growth restriction, malformations, impaired brain function, and even cancer. 

Estimating the radiation dose to the fetus requires considering both external and internal (to the mother’s body) sources, including the below: 

  • Dose from an external source of radiation to the mother’s abdominal area. 
  • Dose from the mother inhaling or ingesting a radioactive substance that enters the bloodstream and then may enter the fetus through the placenta. 
  • Dose from radioactive substances that may concentrate in the maternal tissues surrounding the uterus (i.e. the bladder), with the potential to irradiate the fetus. 

In most cases, radioactive substances that reach the mother’s blood will be detected in the blood of the fetus. The concentration of the substance depends on its specific properties and the development stage of the fetus. 

A few substances needed for fetal growth and development - for example iodine - can have higher concentrations in the fetus than in the maternal tissue. 

Occupational Radiation Exposure - Is It Safe to Work in Radiology While Pregnant? 

Radiation doses to occupationally exposed staff working with radiological equipment are generally low. It's unlikely that the equivalent dose limit will be approached. 

Exposing the embryo or fetus to ionizing radiation carries a risk of causing adverse health effects. (Such as cancer and developmental abnormalities). 

For this reason, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement (NCRP) has created recommendations detailing that the total dose equivalent to the embryo/fetus from occupational radiation exposure of the expectant mother not to exceed 500 mrem (NCRP Report No. 53) throughout the entire gestation period. 

Also, once the pregnancy is known, exposure of the embryo/fetus should not exceed 50 mrem in any month (NCRP No. 91) during the gestation period. 

The first responsibility lies with the pregnant woman herself, who voluntarily notifies her pregnancy to radiation safety at her company as soon as the pregnancy is confirmed. 

After a radiation worker informs her company of her pregnancy, the first step is to implement the fetal dose limit. Then there are three options that are usually considered in radiation facilities: 

  1. No change in assigned working duties. 
  2. Change to another area where the radiation exposure may be lower. 
  3. Change to a job that has essentially no radiation exposure. 

There is no single correct answer for all situations. In certain countries there may be specific regulations that must be followed. Ideally the organization will have a discussion with the employee to discuss the best course of action. During this conversation, the worker should be informed of the potential risks, local policies, and recommended dose limits. 

For some fluoroscopic examinations - an imaging technique which uses x-rays to obtain real-time moving images to create a video of the movements inside part of the body - there is the potential for higher occupational radiation exposure. In interventional radiology procedures, extended fluoroscopy times in addition to the use of certain radiological equipment (such as lead rubber protective curtains) can lead to certain concerns in radiation protection. 

Radiation Detection Co.'s Fetal Monitoring Solution 

The Standard Type 82 TLD-XBG badge or Type 83 TLD-XBGN badge for neutron, fetal monitor is a four-element radiation badge with a minimal reportable dose of 10 mrem (0.10 mSv) LLD being 1 mrem and reporting at 10 mrem. 

Fetal Monitors are available for pregnant radiation workers to ensure the fetus does not exceed 500 mrem for the entire gestational period or 50 mrem a month. 

The badge should be worn close to the embryo/fetus to obtain the most accurate dose. 

Fetal Monitor Product Specifications

Service Overview: 

Fetal Monitors are available for pregnant workers, who have declared their pregnancy, to ensure the fetus does not exceed 500 mrem for the entire gestational period or 50 mrem a month. The badge should be worn close to the embryo/fetus to obtain the most accurate dose. 

Product Details 

The TLD-XBG/TLD-XBGN is a four-element dosimeter badge with a minimum reportable dose of 10 mrem (0.10 mSv) LLD being 1 mrem and reporting at 10 mrem. 

Energies Measured 

X-ray, Beta, Gamma (Neutron reporting available with badge type 83). Beta: 251 keV Eavg to 5 MeV Emax. Photon: 20 keV – 6 MeV. Neutron: Thermal -6 MeV. 

Reporting Periods 


RDC's Commitment to Radiation Protection 

Radiation Detection Company is dedicated to keeping you and all your employees safe. 

We have 75 years of experience providing quality dosimetry service to over 28,000 companies nationwide. 

Want to take the next step in getting your organization set up with RDC’s radiation safety products? Please visit our Solutions page to view our full suite of offerings. 

We offer a wide range of affordable and comprehensive solutions to fit the needs of any organization, large or small. 

Have a question that we did not address in this article? Please reach out to our Customer Care team, and one of our specialists will be happy to assist you. 


Dosimeter badge services for medical, dental, and veterinary businesses

Learn how Radiation Detection Company’s easy-to-use dosimetry solutions can boost the efficiency of your practice.

Radiation Safety Guide