Radiation – Ionizing – Reproductive Health

Exposure to ionizing radiation at work could increase your chances of having reproductive problems, including having a baby with a birth defect. Here, you can learn more about ionizing radiation and what you can do to reduce your exposure for a healthier pregnancy.

What is ionizing radiation?

  • Ionizing radiation is what people usually think of as ‘radiation.’ It is both naturally occurring and man-made.
  • The most common types of ionizing radiation include alpha and beta particles, gamma rays, and X-rays.
  • Ionizing radiation is used in many ways, including manufacturing processes, electric power production, and in medicine to kill cancer cells.

Why should I be concerned about ionizing radiation?

Ionizing radiation is a known reproductive hazard. It has been linked to birth defects and other reproductive problems.

Who is exposed to ionizing radiation at work?

  • Healthcare and veterinary workers who are:
    • Caring for patients who have been treated with Iodine-131 or other nuclear medicine radioactive materials
    • Assisting with fluoroscopy procedures
    • Working around portable X-ray machines in medical, dental, or veterinary offices.
  • Certain industrial and laboratory workers
  • Aircrew (flight attendants and pilots)

What is not known?

  • We don’t know what causes most miscarriages, birth defects, and other reproductive problems. If you are exposed to ionizing radiation at work and have a baby with a birth defect or other reproductive problems, we often can’t tell if it was caused by exposure to ionizing radiation or if it was caused by something else.
  • We don’t know what level of ionizing radiation is safe for every person. Follow your workplace guidelines and recommendations to reduce your excess ionizing radiation exposure as much as possible.

What can I do to reduce or eliminate exposure?

  • Exposure to ionizing radiation is well regulated in most US workplaces. Guidelines are in place for pregnant workers and should be followed closely.
  • The best first step is to talk to your supervisor and the workplace radiation safety officer, or to your state’s department of radiation protection. A radiation protection expert can give you guidance about radiation in your specific workplace, and what the regulations are.
  • Aircrew are exposed to ionizing radiation at levels which may be of concern during pregnancy. Consult the NIOSH aircrew website, the Association of Flight Attendants website or contact us for more information.

Additional Resources