Summary: Pregnant women are often concerned about the safety of going through airport security scans. This article will explore five different aspects related to how airport scans can affect pregnancy.
1. Types of airport scans
Airport security employs two types of scans, millimeter-wave scans and backscatter scans. In the millimeter-wave scan procedure, a passenger stands in front of a scanner that emits high-frequency radio waves over the body surface to create a computer-generated outline. In contrast, backscatter scans use low-dose X-rays to create an image of the passenger’s entire body.
While millimeter-wave scans are generally thought to be safe during pregnancy, some people have concerns about the potentially harmful effects of repeated exposure to low-dose radiation from backscatter scans. However, according to the American College of Radiology, the radiation dose from one backscatter scan is similar to what a person would experience in just two minutes of their everyday life.
Thus, pregnant women who undergo airport security scans can opt for the millimeter-wave scan, thereby reducing concerns about X-ray radiation exposure.
2. Effects on pregnancy
Studies have shown exposure to high levels of radiation during early pregnancy can increase the risk of miscarriage or birth defects in the infant, while exposure in later stages can cause cancer or other health problems in the child. However, because the amount of radiation exposure from airport scans is very low, the risk of harm occurring is also minimal.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) asserts that the amount of radiation a passenger receives during a screening is much less than what somebody is exposed to during a flight. When you fly, you receive cosmic radiation that is many times more significant than the amount received during a scan at the airport. Therefore, there is no scientific evidence to support that airport scans can directly harm a developing baby or cause birth defects
Thus, it is safe for pregnant women to undergo both millimeter-wave and backscatter scans at airports, especially if they do not fly frequently.
3. Pat-down as an alternative
If out of an abundance of caution, a pregnant woman wishes to avoid all types of airport scans, the TSA allowing a person to opt-out of scanning by requesting a pat-down search, which can take between 5 to 40 minutes depending on the individual’s needs.
During this process, a TSA agent of the same gender will try to locate any hidden objects on the passenger while avoiding contact with the head, neck, breasts and genitals. As such, some women may feel more comfortable having a pat-down during pregnancy.
However, although pat-downs are undertaken by trained personnel, there have been numerous reports of inappropriate touching by TSA agents, especially when it comes to intimate areas. Consequently, it may be necessary for an individual to report any inappropriate behavior immediately.
4. Precautions for pregnant women
Pregnant women who opt for a scan should inform a TSA agent of their crystal-clear pregnancy status. They should also pay attention to any information displayed on signs which warn people with medical devices like implanted pacemakers and defibrillators.
If there are concerns related to the presence of harmful substances in any scanners, passengers could inquire about the type of machine being utilized at the airport. It’s worth knowing that millimeter wave scanners appear to be safer than backscatter scanners since the latter use small doses of ionizing radiation, which is considered to be less safe by certain health experts.
Expectant mothers should also aim for the least possible amount of physical contact with strangers and surfaces; hence, it would help when possible to hold onto hand sanitizers and wipes to keep away from possible germs.
5. Airlines’ pregnancy policies
Domestic airlines in the US permit women to fly without any medical documentation during the first 36 weeks of their pregnancy while international flights allow traveling up to six to eight months into a pregnancy. It is, however, necessary to have certificates from the respective doctor or a midwife if one is past the 28th week.
The rules of individual airlines differ, and some can request certification by a doctor of good health in the third trimester. Additionally, pregnant women may be requested to occupy seats that provide more room to stretch than typical seats.
Beyond policies regulating air travel and screenings, physicians recommend expectant mothers to walk around every hour during a journey, especially for trips lasting longer than four hours.
Airport scans are generally safe for pregnant women. Medical professionals recommend the use of millimeter-wave scans instead of backscatter scans, and these types of scans, even with minor doses of ionizing radiation, do not pose any significant harm to pregnant women and their unborn children. Pregnant women may also opt-out of the scanning process and request for a pat-down search if they feel uncomfortable undergoing screening. While travelling by air during pregnancy, it is also essential to comply with airline policies and take necessary precautions to maintain good health.