Airport Screening Machines During Pregnancy: Is It Safe?​

security line airportTraveling -- especially flying -- while pregnant can be anything but easy. Especially if you're traveling by air and having to contend with going through screening machines at the airport. It's natural to wonder if one trip through the security line could cause you or your baby potential harm. But is it really that risky?

Not if you are only traveling occasionally, according to Karen Deighan, M.D., chair of OB/GYN at Loyola University Health System’s Gottlieb Memorial Hospital.

Here, the details:


First of all, the traditional metal detectors that you may encounter at the airport security line don't use X-ray technology. Instead, they employ a low-frequency electromagnetic field to look for weapons. At the low levels the detector emits, the exposure is considered safe, even if you're expecting. The wands that Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) agents may wave over you use the same sort of technology and are equally as safe.

Many airports have now upgraded to one of two new Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) body scanner machines, which both create an image of the surface of your body in order to detect objects under your clothes. One called a "backscatter" uses low-level X-rays and, in turn, has raised health concerns. But the TSA says potential for dangerous radiation exposure from it is low -- the equivalent of about 1/1,000th of a chest X-ray, notes Dr. Deighan.

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The other, called a "millimeter wave" machine, looks like a glass telephone booth and uses electromagnetic waves (like the old-school metal detectors), which are of less concern.

Although the TSA claims that both scanners have been assessed by the Food and Drug Administration, the United States Army Public Health Command, and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and are perfectly safe for pregnant women, it's understandable to want to pass on taking even a minor risk. And your own health care provider may even advise you to avoid any radiation whatsoever, as long-term studies have not yet been completed for these relatively new machines especially.

Thankfully, there are alternatives. "Women who travel frequently or who are concerned can opt out of the scanner and ask instead for a physical pat-down," says Dr. Deighan. Another option: Tell the TSA agent you're pregnant, and you may be allowed to pass through a regular metal detector without additional screening.

How do you feel about being screened at the airport while pregnant?

Image via Josh Hallett/Flickr

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