Answer to Question #9691 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Pregnancy and Radiation — Radiation effects to embryo/fetus

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


I am currently a medical student and six weeks pregnant and am concerned about the radioactivity found in the US air and milk supply from the Japanese nuclear plants. I realize that the current news states the levels are low, but considering I drink milk every day, at least four glasses, and that there is potential for this radioactivity to be found in other food products/water as time passes, I am still very concerned about the effects of ingesting this material on my developing baby, particularly since I am so early in my pregnancy. Can you provide me with some idea of the risks to my baby?


Congratulations on your pregnancy and thank you for contacting the Health Physics Society Ask the Experts website. The dangerous amount of radioactivity from the earthquake in the locality of the nuclear power plant is at the reactors at the plant. In Japan, the radioactive levels are very low in cities and food supplies distant from the plant. The greatest danger is for the workers who are working on the plant site to prevent a meltdown in the reactors.

In the United States, all of our food supplies are not increased significantly and you can drink all the milk that you wish to consume. In all likelihood, the atmospheric radioactivity will increase worldwide, but the levels will be far, far below any level that would increase risks to the population, including pregnant women. Fear is the greatest fallout of the earthquake and its results. Your risk for birth defects or miscarriage is not increased over the background risks that all healthy pregnant women face.

The background risks for pregnant women with no personal or family history of reproductive or developmental problems is 3% for birth defects and 15% for miscarriage. All pregnant women face these risks, which we cannot yet prevent.

Good luck with your pregnancy.

Robert Brent MD, PhD

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 5 April 2011. 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.