When you’re expecting a baby, you try to avoid a lots of things, such as first and secondhand smoke, X-rays, caffeine and alcohol. Here’s a new contender for the no-no list: Radiation from electronic devices like your cellphone, your laptop and your iPad.
As you may know, cellphones and other electronic devices emit non-ionizing radiation through their antennas at low levels. (That’s how they communicate with the cell tower or your wireless router.) Unlike ionizing radiation (think X-rays), non-ionizing radiation is weak. A quick bio lesson: It doesn’t have the power to break the DNA chain like ionizing radiation can. That’s a good thing. But that doesn’t mean it’s 100% safe.
Evidence is mounting that our bodies can absorb non-ionizing energy, and that it may affect human DNA over time. Consider: In 2011, the World Health Organization classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (a.k.a. non-ionizing radiation from electronic devices) as a possible carcinogen, putting it in the same category as DDT, diesel engine exhaust, jet fuel and lead. “It’s analogous to getting sun exposure over the years,” says Devra Davis, PhD, MPH, president and founder of the Environmental Health Trust and the Website saferphonezone.com.
Would pregnancy be a good time to put non-ionizing radiation on your radar? It might be. Read on…
Cellphone radiation safety
Young children are particularly at risk to electronic device radiation because they have thinner skulls, which are less protective. “The size of a baby’s brain doubles in the first year of life. It’s a time of great
vulnerability,” says Davis, who is concerned about long-term health risks (cancer) and child development.
An observational study in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health bears this out. It compared prenatal and postnatal exposure to cellphone use in 28,745 7 year olds and found that children who weren’t exposed to cellphones had fewer behavior problems compared to children who both prenatal and postnatal exposure, replicating the results of a previous study. For more info on the health risks of electronic device radiation, particuarly as it pertains to kids, check out my piece, “Wireless Worries” in the June 2015 issue of Parents.
Meanwhile, keep in mind that every wireless device sold in the U.S. must meet FCC limits for RF energy exposure (1.6 watts per kilogram). But products aren’t evaluated for safety in the way we necessarily use them. “Laptops, for example, are tested to be used 20 cm away from an adult body,” Davis says, not literally on your lap. That means we could be absorbing much more non-ionizing radiation than previously thought.
You don’t have to give up your cell phone (as if) or your other electronic devices. But these small changes, below, can help reduce your exposure during your pregnancy–and beyond.
1. Distance yourself. A recent study in Scientific Reports showed that when pregnant mice had mobile phones strapped to their cages, they gave birth to babies with persistent behavioral problems, including ADHD. “At the critical juncture when the brain is developing, it’s clear that exposure to radiation has permanent neurological effects on mice,” says Hugh S. Taylor, M.D. professor and director of the division of reproductive endocrinology at the Yale School of Medicine. Whether this finding can be extrapolated to humans isn’t yet known. Still, “if I were pregnant, I wouldn’t keep my cell in my pocket or clip it to my belt,” Dr. Taylor says.
The iPhone manual suggests increasing your distance to the phone by using a hands-free option, such as the speakerphone, the supplied headphones with built-in mic and decreasing your total talk time. “Bluetooth is okay as long as your phone isn’t in your pocket,” Dr. Davis says. Texting is fine, too. For lengthy phone calls, switch to a land line, but put it on speaker.
More smart phone smarts: Don’t keep your cellphone on in your bra or your pocket when you’re not using it either. Davis also suggests not placing your phone under your pillow or on a bedside table.
2. Don’t use your laptop or tablet computer on your lap. If you’re connected to the Internet, use your laptop or iPad at a desk or a table. The iPad information guide backs this up: “You can further limit your exposure…by placing more distance between your body and iPad, since exposure level drops off dramatically with distance.”
Using a laptop on your lap with a cooling pad, which is designed to help avoid laptop burns, can also help reduce the non-ionizing energy your body absorbs because it puts distance between you and the device. But using a laptop that way for hours isn’t a good idea either since time is also a factor in the amount of RF energy the body absorbs.
3. Consider protective products. If you don’t want to bother with any of that, products, such as the Belly Armor blanket are available to shield your and your baby-to-be from non-ionizing radiation from electronic devices. Belly Armor also makes maternity belly bands that you wear under your clothes, nursing covers, rouched belly maternity tee shirts and other maternity tops, men’s boxer-briefs (research suggests that mobile phone radiation may affect sperm quality) and a baby monitor that emits 97 percent less non-ionizing radiation than a regular DECT digital monitor.
Belly Armor products (with the exception of the baby monitor) are lined with RadiaShield. Lighter than T-shirt cotton, RadiaShield is a textile with a thin sheet of silver that physically blocks non-ionizing radiation from electronic devices and other sources. You could, for example, drape your Belly Armor blanket over your belly if you want to use your laptop on your lap while you’re online or nurse your baby while talking on your cellphone or cordless landline (both give off non-ionizing radiation). All Belly Armor products are made from organic cotton.
The concept of protecting yourself from non-ionizing radiation is new to the U.S. but not so new to the world. “In China, they give you an industrial apron, like you’d get in a dentist’s office, when you announce you’re pregnant,” says Aileen Chen, Belly Armor’s CEO. That’s what got Chen to develop Belly Armor in the first place. “When I got pregnant, I was a banker in Singapore, sitting with a laptop and a Blackberry. I started reading up on the science,” she says. All told, “technology doesn’t come without caveats.”
The idea of protective yourself from electronic device radiation is catching on. Belly Armor, which began in 2009, is now sold products in 30 countries. Amazon also features a line of anti-radiation maternity dresses.
Belly Armor Giveaway!
Is non-ionizing radiation on your radar? Leave me a comment and I’ll choose a winner at random to receive a free Belly Armor Belly Blanket in Chic (tan), a $69 value. This contest is open to residents of the US only and closes at 5PM ET, July 25. If your name is chosen, I’ll notify you by email; if you fail to respond within 48 hours of being notified, you’ll make another entrant very happy because I’ll be forced to choose another name.
Congrats to Val Cannell—the winner of my last giveaway—HappyFamily food pouches!