Can I Get an X-Ray While Pregnant?

A doctor showing a pregnant women her x-ray

Jordan Siemens / Iconica / Getty Images

Regular ultrasounds are a routine part of pregnancy, but there are times when you may need an X-ray while you're expecting, too. X-rays are commonly only recommended during pregnancy to investigate an urgent health issue, but you may also be exposed to X-ray technology as part of your job or as a parent of an older child who requires it.

Otherwise, most people have no reason to be exposed to X-rays during pregnancy. But it's important to understand the possible risks in case you are, since radiation can be harmful to humans, especially babies. Simple precautions can minimize your baby's exposure to the radiation that can come from X-rays and put your mind at ease.

X-Ray Risks During Pregnancy

The concern about X-rays has to do with the possible effects of radiation on fetal development. During gestation, babies' cells are dividing and growing into tissues, organs, and other body parts at a rapid pace, which is what makes a growing fetus especially vulnerable to all sorts of environmental exposures, including radiation. There are three main factors can influence how much your unborn baby is affected by radiation:

  • Radiation dose: Research shows that babies who are exposed to very high doses of radiation are at greater risk for restricted growth, microcephaly (an undersized skull and brain), and intellectual disabilities. However, the radiation levels associated with these risks are exceedingly high and linked to experiences unlikely to affect you or your child, like atomic bomb blasts. The vast majority of routine medical X-rays, like the kind you'd have for a broken bone or at the dentist's office, emit very low levels of radiation.
  • Area of the body being X-rayed: In the hands of a trained technician, X-ray images of your arms, legs, head, teeth, or chest do not involve any risk to the baby in your belly. More concerning are X-rays of your lower torso, like the abdomen, pelvis, or lower back area, which are more likely to reach your baby.
  • Your baby's gestational age: Generally, the earlier in pregnancy you are, the more harmful radiation can be to your baby. For instance, babies are most vulnerable to developing intellectual disabilities from radiation exposure during weeks 8 to 15 of gestation. However, even a large number of successive X-rays wouldn't expose a fetus to the levels of radiation that have been shown to cause these harmful effects.

You might wonder about an X-ray you had before learning you were pregnant, but there is likely no need for concern. Only very high doses of radiation—much greater than would be used in a typical diagnostic X-ray—have been shown to cause problems in developing embryos. In the rare instance that you've had a very large, successive number of X-rays to your abdominal area early in pregnancy, it's a good idea to discuss concerns with your doctor.

Pregnancy X-Ray Precautions

Sometimes, the risk of not having a needed X-ray is greater than the risk from the radiation, so it's important to work with your healthcare provider to proceed safely and feel reassured throughout the process. Even though there's little evidence that a typical course of diagnostic X-rays can harm your baby, doctors and dentists are trained to take steps to reduce your exposure to radiation during pregnancy.

Dental X-Rays

Dental care is important during pregnancy. Because they really only expose the mouth to radiation, dental X-rays pose very little risk to your baby. To be extra safe, dentists will cover your torso with a lead apron that shields it from radiation. Be sure to let your dentist know you are pregnant when scheduling your appointment and remind them when you arrive.

Other Diagnostic X-Rays

You may injure an arm, leg, finger, or toe during pregnancy and need an X-ray to assess whether it's broken. Or, you may need a mammogram, which is an X-ray of the breast. These procedures are safe during pregnancy. Inform your doctor and technician of your pregnancy so they can use a lead apron and take care to avoid your abdominal and pelvic area.

If a Loved One Needs an X-Ray

Young children who need an X-ray for a possible broken bone or another ailment may need a helping hand in the screening room. Whenever possible, ask another trusted adult to provide assistance and comfort if you are pregnant. If you must accompany your child during an X-ray while you are pregnant, take care not to hold the child close to you while images are being taken and request a lead apron for added safety.

If You Work With X-Rays

If you are a technician in a radiology department, perform mammograms, or work in dentistry, it's extra important that you monitor early pregnancy signs and let your employer know if you are expecting. Labor experts suggest you discuss your amount of daily exposure with your employer and consider requesting a temporary reassignment if you are concerned.

Questions to Ask Before You Get an X-Ray

  • Is there another test that might help you, without an X-ray?
  • What happens if we don't do the X-ray?
  • Can the X-ray wait for a period of time (say, until after week 20 or until the baby is born)?

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I get dental X-rays when pregnant?

Yes. Oral health is important to your health and your baby's health, so don't avoid needed dental X-rays during pregnancy. Only your mouth is exposed to radiation, and at very low levels, so there is little risk to your baby. Still, to be extra safe, dentists will cover your abdominal area with a lead apron when they need to take pictures.

Are X-rays dangerous during pregnancy?

They can be. Babies who are directly exposed to high levels of radiation are at a higher risk for health problems, including restricted growth and developmental issues. You can protect your baby by avoiding unnecessary X-rays during pregnancy, and when they are required, working with your doctors to avoid exposing your abdominal area to radiation as much as possible.

Is it safe for me to work near X-rays when I am pregnant?

It depends. If you work with radiation-emitting equipment, speak with your doctor about how frequently you conduct X-rays and what levels of exposure you have. They can make recommendations about what is safe. As soon as you know you're expecting, discuss a plan with your employer to use extra protective equipment or be temporarily reassigned.

Can pregnant women pass through X-rays when traveling?

Yes. The various types of airport screening machines currently in use to scan passengers emit only scant amounts of very low-level radiation, if any. Still, if you are concerned, you can opt out of walking through a body scanner and request a pat-down search instead.

Why do doctors ask if you're pregnant before X-rays?

They ask because X-rays do emit radiation, and radiation can be harmful to fetuses. When doctors know you are pregnant, they can take every precaution to protect your baby, including avoiding X-rays that aren't needed and protecting your abdominal area when they are.

A Word From Verywell

When you're pregnant, it's natural to focus most of your energy on your growing baby, but your own body merits care and concern as well. If you take a fall, feel a concerning breast lump, or require emergency dental care, you may need an X-ray. With radiation levels from this type of diagnostic scan being very low, it may be safer for you to get an X-ray than to put it off until after you've had your baby.

As with most aspects of health care, communication is key. As soon as you know you're expecting, tell any doctor or dentist who might prescribe or perform diagnostic procedures as well as your employer if you work in radiology. You can work together to make sure you are protecting yourself and your baby from any radiation risks, as minimal as they may be.

8 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. X-rays, pregnancy, and you.

  2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Guidelines for diagnostic imaging during pregnancy and lactation.

  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. X-rays, pregnancy, and you.

  4. March of Dimes. Dental health during pregnancy.

  5. American Pregnancy Association. Pregnancy and dental work.

  6. American Cancer Society. Finding breast cancer during pregnancy.

  7. International Atomic Energy Agency. Radiation protection of pregnant women in radiology.

  8. Environmental Protection Agency. Radiation and airport security scanning.

By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.