Are Airport Scanners Safe during Pregnancy?

Is It Safe to Go Through Airport Security Scanners During Pregnancy?

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Sabiha Anjum (Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
View more Gynecologist/Obstetrician Our Panel of Experts

Travelling during pregnancy comes with some preparation, both physically and mentally. One big concern is about airport security scanners, and how safe they are for a pregnant woman and the baby inside her. There is well-researched evidence that airport security scanners are safe.

What Are Airport Scanners?

Airport scanners are advanced screening gadgets used on airline passengers to detect any security threats that might be attached to their body and/or garments. It is used to identify metallic and non-metallic objects like weapons, explosives, or other stuff like sharp objects (knives), corrosive material, etc. that might be used to harm or threaten other passengers that have boarded the flight.

Types of Airport Scanners

Airport security scanners come in many forms, including-

  • Body scanners like millimetre radio-wave scanner that uses millimetre wave Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) to create 3-D images of your body.
  • X-ray scanners like a back-scatter scanner
  • Metal detectors

The Procedure of a Body Scan at Airports

There are a few things you need to do before going through airport body scanners during pregnancy-

  • Remove and place all your personal belongings like wallets, tissue paper, ID cards, cellphones into a separate tray for scanning.
  • The boarding pass must be removed as well.
  • Remove all accessories like jewellery, jackets, belts, shoes, shawls, heavy garments, or any other metal items on your body or garments.

The process includes these steps-

  • Enter the scanner machine.
  • Stand with both your hands raised above the level of your head.
  • Do this for around 2 to 3 seconds, while the device captures your image.

Once this is complete, the screening officer will check your scanned image to check if you are carrying any dangerous objects. If you clear the scan, you can proceed to collect all your removed belongings.

The Procedure of a Body Scan at Airports

The Procedure of Physical Pat-Down Search

If you are wary of scanners, some women prefer a physical pat-down search. You can certainly request the authorities for a pat-down search. In this process, a female security professional will run her hands all over your body, even your chest and stomach, to look for any weapons that a person might carry.

If you opt for a physical pat-down screening, it is ideal to reach the airport with some time at hand. This is because this process is more time consuming than machine screening. This type of screening is done in the general screening area, but you may request for a more private pat-down in a separate section. You may also have a companion with you to feel more comfortable.

You might be selected for further screening, and your boarding passes might be printed with indicators. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of the airport may need to put you through AIT body screening.

Are Airport Scanners Safe When Pregnant?

According to research, it is proven that all types of airport scanners are safe for pregnant woman and the unborn child. The Radiation Protection Standard stipulates a maximum permissible level of exposure for travellers. This includes expecting mothers and their children.

Moreover, all scanners pass through stringent safety tests, and they are used under the supervision and regulation of monitoring agencies. Did you know that some research suggested that these machines use ten thousand times less energy than the energy used by mobile phones?

Also, they are much more evolved than the older generation scanners. The most modern millimetre body scanners don’t use X-rays or expose your body to ionizing radiation. Of course, if x-ray scanners are used, they are harmless too.

Let’s take a look at the technology used and the exposure levels in the two most modern scanners, and how safe they are for pregnant women:

1. Back-Scatter Scanners

These are X-ray scanners that use low-frequency electromagnetic x-ray waves to search for objects hidden inside a person’s clothing. The low-intensity and low penetration level of the electromagnetic wave cause minimum exposure to rays. Hence, it can cause no harm to a baby developing in the womb. The scanner merely probes through the passengers’ garments and not the skin. According to reputed research firms, the exposure to radiation is well below the limits stipulated. So, both the baby and the mother are safe if they go through this type of airport X-ray scanner during pregnancy.

2. Millimeter-Wave Body Scanners

These scanners simply bounce off the surface of your skin. They do not penetrate inside and merely create a basic outline of your body. So, they cannot cause any harm to either you and your growing foetus. According to the American TSA, these deliver 10,000 times less energy than your cell phone. Still, if you are worried about the safety of airport scanners or don’t feel safe about going through them, you can opt for a physical ‘pat-down’ process, as explained in the section above.

3. Metal Detectors

When you are scanned using airport metal detectors during pregnancy, it is perfectly safe. These old-fashioned screeners are still used in many airports. Though they use magnetic fields that are a form of radiation, they are “non-ionizing” radiation and are very low-frequency electromagnetic fields. They merely detect any threatening object you might be carrying. They create the same or lesser intensity of electromagnetic field as the various things we use in our daily lives like electric lines, computers, other household appliances, and even MRI machines used in diagnostic tests. So, they are totally safe during pregnancy.

We have radiation all around us, and airport scanners are devices that emit the least of it. Research suggests that one scan is only about one-tenth of the radiation we are exposed to daily from naturally present sources of radiation around us. So, it is quite certain that they can cause no harm to pregnant women and their foetus.

Also Read: Travelling By Bus While Pregnant

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