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EMF Exposure and Pregnancy Risks: Here’s What the Scientific Literature Tells Us

By  Julie Comber, Ph.D.

Electromagnetic field exposure in pregnant women is associated with a shorter pregnancy, increased fetal heart rate variability and temperature, and babies born with smaller head and chest circumferences, according to a review of scientific findings.

Over the longer term, EMF exposure in utero increases a child’s risk of developing speech, hyperactivity and other inattention issues.

The review, published in February in Heliyon, adds to existing evidence that EMFs cause harm by demonstrating the effect on babies in utero.

Healthcare providers should encourage pregnant women to reduce their use of mobile devices, keep mobile devices away from their bodies and try to use devices that emit less radiation, the authors of the review concluded.


Why a systematic review on EMF exposure and pregnancy?

Smartphones are extremely popular — 83% of adults in countries with emerging economies own smartphones and 94% of adults in countries with advanced economies own them.

Other popular portable electronic devices include tablets and laptops.

All these devices emit EMFs. There is considerable scientific evidence that some types of EMFs cause harm, and also that there are strategies to help reduce harmful exposure.

Highlights from the review


A large 2019 meta-analysis assessed the impact of RFR exposure. The mothers were categorized into none, low, medium and high cellphone use based on the self-reported frequency of calls per day.

Data from more than 55,000 pregnant women and their children in four countries showed women who reported more frequent calling had a higher risk of giving birth at a lower gestational age compared with those who reported less frequent calling.

The study found no association with fetal growth or birth weight.


A 2018 model calculation of the RFR absorbed by the maternal body at 13, 18 and 26 weeks’ gestation showed exposure to RFR increased fetal temperature.

Two of the studies included in the review provided evidence of changes in infants’ measurements at birth.

One 2019 study reported pregnant women who used their mobile phones during pregnancy were more likely than those who did not use cellphones to give birth to infants with low birth weight.

The study also showed pregnant women exposed to RFR from base stations and TVs were more likely to give birth to infants with a smaller head circumference.

A 2017 study from Japan showed pregnant women who used their mobile phones excessively tended to give birth to infants with a smaller chest circumference.


A large 2017 study analyzed data from almost 84,000 mother-child pairs in five countries. The authors analyzed the same four birth cohorts as the 2019 meta-analysis described above, plus an additional birth cohort from Norway.

Maternal cellphone use was categorized based on the self-reported number of cellphone calls per day.

According to the study, 38.8% of mothers reported no cellphone use during pregnancy. These mothers were less likely to have a child with behavioral, hyperactivity/inattention or emotional issues.

A small 2019 cross-sectional study found using cordless phones (a source of RFR exposure) or living near power lines (a source of high magnetic fields) during pregnancy increased the risk of giving birth to children with speech problems.


FCC guidelines outdated and inadequate, court rules

What are “safer” levels of EMF exposure for pregnant women? How can women know whether their exposure is below a certain safety threshold?

Unfortunately, pregnant women won’t find answers to these questions from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the U.S. federal agency that is supposed to regulate human exposure to RFRs.

According to a Harvard University Center for Ethics study, the FCC is a “captured agency,” meaning it is controlled by the industry it is supposed to regulate.

The FCC has not updated its health and safety guidelines for wireless-based technologies since 1996. Since then, the scientific evidence that RFR causes harm increased, the amount of RFR people are exposed to has increased and the way we use portable electronic devices has dramatically changed.


This testing for the SAR of cellphones was designed to protect us from short-term heating risks due to RFR exposure based on the outdated idea that the only harmful effects of EMFs are thermal, meaning whether they increase the temperature of tissue.

However, there is abundant evidence EMFs cause harm through non-thermal effects, too.

In addition, researchers who developed a health-based exposure limit for RFR that is 20- to 40-fold lower than the FCC’s SAR limit argue children’s SAR limit should be 10 times lower than that for adults. Their calculations did not consider prenatal exposure.

Given the inadequacy of the FCC’s guidelines, and the agency’s refusal to update them, Children’s Health Defense took the FCC to court. And won!

The court’s 2021 judgment requires the case be remanded to the FCC “to provide a reasoned explanation for its determination that its guidelines adequately protect against harmful effects of exposure to radiofrequency radiation….”

How to reduce EMF exposure during pregnancy

Until policies are in place to protect consumers from EMFs, what can pregnant women do?

Given the critical stages of development that babies in utero pass through, and their well-known vulnerability to other environmental toxins, it makes sense to take a precautionary approach to EMF exposure during pregnancy.

The authors of the review suggested reducing use and increasing distance from EMF-emitting devices, and using devices that emit fewer EMFs.

While this is a start, it is not clear how much time using a smartphone may be “safe,” how far away to keep the device and how to know whether a device emits less radiation.

In a recent article in The Defender, Dr. Joseph Mercola offered tips to reduce EMF exposure.

Tips that may be of particular interest to pregnant women include:

  • Avoid carrying a cellphone on your body, unless it is in airplane mode.
  • If you need to take a call on a cellphone, keep it 3 feet away and use speakerphone.
  • Connect computers and other devices to a wired ethernet connection instead of using Wi-Fi.
  • If you must use Wi-Fi, turn it off overnight.
  • Make your bedroom a sanctuary. Turn off your cellphone or put it in airplane mode overnight, and preferably put it in a different room or far from you.
  • Avoid wireless baby-monitoring devices.



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