Answer to Question #13150 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Medical and Dental Patient Issues — Pediatric Issues

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:


My baby boy was born premature. While in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), he had nine chest x rays, two abdominal x rays, and a swallow test. My baby also had an intravenous (IV) line inserted that required a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line insertion. I read a PICC line requires the use of x rays. I am worried about my baby. I read x rays are not safe for babies and my baby had so many. Is there any risk for my baby in the future?


First, I can assure you there is no risk the radiation will produce any effects that might be seen within days to months after exposure. Furthermore, the risk of any future harm beyond that is negligible. 

While a medical physicist at the facility where the x rays were taken should be able to provide a more precise estimate of the effective radiation dose to your baby, the total effective dose from the chest and abdominal x rays would not exceed (and would probably be much less than) about 0.34 millisieverts (mSv). To put the dose in perspective, 0.34 mSv is about the average amount of radiation that every person in the United States receives every five weeks from natural background radiation. I should add that the swallowing study and PICC line placement involve brief exposure to x rays from fluoroscopes, and would not significantly add to your baby’s radiation dose.  

I certainly understand and appreciate your concerns about your baby. There is a lot of scary information available about radiation (much of it is inaccurate or exaggerated). But it is important to realize that medical imaging provides very real and tangible benefits that far outweigh any minuscule potential risks. X-ray imaging is noninvasive and therefore does not involves risks of infection, bleeding, or allergic reactions. At the same time, the results help physicians to identify (or rule out) various conditions, and guide them in making appropriate choices to improve the health and well-being of patients such as your baby.

To summarize, the risks to your baby from these x-ray procedures is minimal, but the results were no doubt very beneficial and important tools in providing appropriate and necessary medical care to your child. 

John C. Keklak, MS Hyg
Certified Health Physicist

Ask the Experts is posting answers using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
Answer posted on 28 October 2019. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.