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10 Scientific Studies on Cell Phone Use While Pregnant

By August 10, 2020 December 5th, 2020 No Comments
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Critically Reviewed by Laura Koniver, MD

Full Disclosure: I use a smartphone daily—the iPhone 11 Pro Max, midnight green—and don’t advocate for a return to the stone age, but a cautious and responsible entry into the electromagnetic age as something I believe is particularly important for pregnant couples, parents and children.

As an expectant mother, you’re probably asking yourself if anything has to change as far as your cell phone habits. Pulling down your copy of “America’s Pregnancy Bible,” What to Expect When You’re Expecting, you scour the index for cell phone and turn to the only page listed, page 71, “Mobile Devices,” and it tells you (emphasis added):

(Mobile Device Advice from America’s Pregnancy Bible)

“Mobile Devices

“‘I spend hours a day on my smartphone, both for work and for fun…and all things baby. Is that safe during pregnancy?’”

“Are you obsessed with your cell? A message board maniac? Just plain app happy? If so, this should make you extra happy: Evidence suggests it’s unlikely mobile devices and the radiation they emit pose any risk to your baby-to-be.

“Eager to play it safe but still keep playing on your phone? Experts suggest that you avoid carrying your mobile on your waist (or where your waist once was) and keep it on silent when it’s near your bump. Research shows that fetuses startle when they hear that beeping or buzzing or ringing so close by, possibly rattling their sleep-wake cycle.

“One well-documented danger of mobile devices whether you’re pregnant or not comes from using a handheld mobile phone (for texting or talking) while driving. In fact, in many areas it’s illegal. Even hands-free devices can be distracting when you’re driving, and you’re better off putting your phone on silent (so you don’t hear any rings or text dings or social media notification zings) or turning it off altogether when you’re in the car. Play it safe by pulling over to a safe area before making a call or texting.

“Walking while distracted (using your cell while walking) can also land you in trouble. You’re already a little more prone to falls as pregnancy progresses (your center of gravity is off, you can’t see your feet), and there’s no reason to add another risk factor to the mix. Park yourself on a park bench, stand against a wall in the mall, or stop in your tracks on the track before you text or check how many likes the photo you posted last night has gotten.

“Something else to keep in mind: Using a phone or tablet before bed can keep you busy (and productive, when there’s so much to do on your to-do list), but it can also keep you from sleeping once you turn in. Light from the screen alters sleepiness and alertness, and also suppresses levels of melatonin, the hormone that regulates your internal clock and plays a role in your sleep cycle. So power down your devices at least an hour before turning in.” – What to Expect When You’re Expecting, 5th Edition, 2016

This is Terrible Advice for Expectant Mothers. Here’s Why.

With that alliteration anomaly on the table—and that is the entirety of any coverage on cell phone dangers in the 644-page book—let’s look at why some of this advice could give expectant mothers a false sense of security, and how poor cell phone usage habits could very much, in fact, lead to traumatic experiences that no pregnant women would ever hope to experience. We’ll look at some of the science to help you make safer and more informed decisions and we’ll suggest a few simple pointers.

The advice is an egregious disservice to pregnant women for the following reasons:

  • It fails to mention many scientifically proven dangers of cell phone use during pregnancy
  • By stating evidence suggests harm is unlikely, it provides a false sense of safety
  • Pregnant women reading it are likely to feel no need to look further and thus not realize the topic is as important as it is to both their own and their baby’s future wellbeing
  • It cites no scientific studies, there are no footnotes, there is no bibliography.
  • It was published many years after considerable evidence had emerged on cell phone risks, with science particularly relevant to pregnant women.
  • That is the complete address to mobile device safety throughout the entirety of the best-selling pregnancy book of all time.

Messing With Mama Bear

To be fair, the book isn’t exactly intended as a Cell Phone 101 for pregnancy, and some regulatory bodies do in fact agree with its “evidence suggests… risk is unlikely” stance. However, since at the very least the jury is definitely still out on this topic and the book addresses the very people who would need to know of any potential guilty charges, it’s all that is omitted or given short shrift that I feel does a disservice to future parents. Please, at least suggest something to the effect of potential harm as it currently implies, “Case closed, your cell phone can do you almost no harm.” And that, as we’ll see, is inaccurate. It’s not that all pointers given are inaccurate—screens before bedtime aren’t good, mobile phones in cars aren’t either—it’s that there is so much omitted and glossed over. And to understand the gravity of those omissions, we have to look first at some aspects of cell phones, including how they are tested.

Cell Phone Safety Testing Basics for Parents

Meet Sam: Before it makes it to market, your cell phone is safety-tested on “Sam.” SAM is an acronym for “specific anthropomorphic mannequin,” a 2-millimeter thick, fluid-filled plastic head that is supposed to be comparable to a cell phone user. The first significant problem is that “Sam” is built to represent a 6-foot-2-inch male weighing 220 pounds, so there is a 97 percent chance this model does not reflect your physical size as a mother, let alone your child; Sam reflects the physical proportions of just 3% of all cellphone users.

Understand Sar: SAR stands for Specific Absorption Rate, which is “a measure of the amount of radiofrequency energy absorbed by the body when using a mobile phone.” That rating, however, only reflects the acute thermal (heat) effect of any emitted radiofrequency energy, thus presenting two significant (and fairly widely acknowledged) problems:

  1. The measurement is done against a non-human, inanimate subject which, as covered above, was built to represent a 6’2” male of more than 220 pounds. (Meanwhile, as Glow and other pregnancy apps will inform you, your baby is the size of a cherry, peach, avocado, etc.)
  2. Evidence suggests that well before any thermal (heating) effects are seen, the body experiences multiple adverse reactions, a handful of which we will cover here as specifically relates to pregnancy and motherhood.

Real Cell Phones Aren’t Often Tested: Just as a mannequin is used as the test subject, so, too, are simulation devices used in place of actual cell phones during most testing. So while in the real world you may be driving while on your phone as it erratically pulses, pings and transfers from cell tower to cell tower, or perhaps you step into an elevator that (just like your car), reflects radiofrequency energy right back at you, the device used in testing never goes there and rarely fluctuates as a real cell phone does. For instance, placing a call in good reception is far different than browsing a web page or watching a YouTube video, each of which requires your cell phone to receive and emit levels of radiofrequency energy that exceed safety ratings.

Your Cell Phone is Always On: Let’s get this out of the way early: Even while you aren’t actively using your phone, as long as it is powered on and not in airplane mode, it is sending and receiving small packets of information, and thus is constantly emitting radiofrequency energy. As you will see, it may not be enough simply to be “using your cell a few minutes daily” while neglecting to take other, simple, precautionary measures. The question is not, “Are you on your cell phone?” but “Is your cell phone on?” Unless your cell phone is off, as long as it is on your body, you are on your cell phone.

Follow the Funding: Finally, funding is a considerable factor to take into account within safety and testing. When the University of Washington professor Henry Lai analyzed 326 cell phone radiation studies, he found that 67 percent of the studies funded by the mobile communications industry reported no adverse effects, while only 28 percent of studies funded by non-industry sources reported no adverse effect. “Does this prove malfeasance?,” asks Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Body, “No, but it should raise a red flag.”

That said, let’s dive into a handful of the numerous scientific studies and then look at how simple it can actually be to understand and avert many of the dangers associated with cell phone use throughout pregnancy.

Prolonged Cell Phone Use While Pregnant Associated with a 6X Increase in Threatened Miscarriage

Prolonged cell phone use during pregnancy is a scientifically suggested factor involved in threatened miscarriage and spontaneous abortion.

Published in the Journal of Fertilization on 30 May 2014, a case-control study conducted at the largest maternity hospital in Singapore involving 418 pregnant mothers, revealed: “Our most significant finding is that both prolonged computer use (≥ 4 hours/day) and mobile phone use (≥ 2 hours/day) were associated with a 6-fold increase in the risk of threatened miscarriage.”

The longer a pregnant mother spent on her cell phone, the higher that risk: “Greater duration of mobile phone use or computer use was associated with higher risk and a dose-response relationship was suggested by the data.”

Cell Phone Use While Pregnant Can Be Related to Early Spontaneous Abortion

The following year, on 21 April 2015, peer-reviewed research out of Iran considered such things as the length of time spent by pregnant women on their cell phones daily, where the phone was kept while in and out of use (on tables, in handbags, or in pockets), as well as how much electromagnetic energy was absorbed by the body, for 308 pregnant women and 292 women who had experienced unexplained spontaneous abortion. Adjusting for known confounders—which are variables that can otherwise ruin an experiment and provide useless results by suggesting a correlation where one doesn’t in fact exist—such as maternal and paternal age and the prior history of abortions, the study’s authors wrote, “Our result suggests that use of mobile phones can be related to the early spontaneous abortions.” (Study participants with chronic diseases, genetic disorders, any history of birth defects in prior births, or who smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol or consumed drugs were excluded from the study to begin with.)

Living Near a Cell Phone Tower While Pregnant is an Independent Risk Factor of Spontaneous Abortion

That same year, in 2015, an epidemiological investigation had also concluded in Beijing, China, that involved 34,417 women pregnant between January 2000 and December 2013. Scientists found “significant differences” in the rate of spontaneous abortions occurring in women that lived within 100 meters of a cell phone tower, and concluded it was one of five “independent risk factors of spontaneous abortion in Beijing.” (Not covered in the study, SmartMeters should also be on your list of devices to avoid throughout pregnancy and raising your child, according to Midwifery Today and other sources.)

Prenatal Exposure to Magnetic Frequencies Can Result in Fetal Death

In peer-reviewed research out of Kaiser Permanente (San Francisco, California) from 2001, scientists recorded the typical daily and maximum daily EMF exposure levels for 969 pregnant women, to each of whom they provided a wearable device that recorded these levels at 10-second intervals for one 24-hour period. Analyzing the recorded data as well as diaries and input from the pregnant women, the scientists noted, “Prenatal exposure to MMF ≥16 mG [i.e., maximum magnetic frequency equal to or greater than 16 mG] was associated with an 80% increased risk of miscarriage.” The study’s authors further noted that the “exposure level in our study population was comparable with that found in a nationwide survey.”

Cell phones and wireless devices produce electromagnetic fields (EMF) and emit electromagnetic radiation (EMR). Both EMF and EMR refer to two different aspects of the same phenomenon. The energy waves consist of an electric field as well as a magnetic field, each at a right angle to the direction in which the wave is actually traveling. How many waves formed per second gives you frequency. EMFs are measured in milligauss (mG), to which (contrary to popular beliefs like the “US EPA recommends you limit your exposure to 0.5 to 2.5 mG”), there is no official limit set for. (But since the book mentioned earlier also suggests free-reign microwave use while pregnant, I should mention that simply standing a foot away from one, you would be exposed to up to 80 mG, or between 32 and 160 times what many consider a safe limit.)

While at least a few authors have claimed that such cell phone and EMF studies fail to look at other variables or confounders, the scientists who conducted this particular study note, “The robustness of the association between MMF and miscarriage risk against potential confounders was supported by evidence that despite adjustment for more than 30 variables of known or suspected risk factors for miscarriage, the estimates were barely altered.”

“A disruption of early fetal development at the cellular or molecular level by external MFs could conceivably result in fetal death,” they wrote.

Study of 13,000 Children Finds Maternal Cell Phone Use Causes Behavior and Hyperactivity Problems

In 2007, a Danish study was done of 101,032 pregnancies and more than 13,000 children born in the late 1990s. The scientists examined the frequency of cell phone use by pregnant mothers and their children over the course of several years, comparing such factors as how often calls were placed daily, and whether a pregnant mother’s cell phone was “carried in bag” versus “carried in dress/pant pocket.”

Their findings were startling. Children whose mothers used cell phones more than twice daily while pregnant were 54% more likely to develop emotional and behavioral problems and children who themselves used cell phones (all under age 7) were 80% less likely to develop various important social skills. Comparing pregnant cell phone users and non-users, they found that children born to mothers who used cells phones were:

  • 49% more prone to “behavioral problems”
  • 35% more likely to have “hyperactivity”
  • and had a 34% increased incidence of “peer problems”

“The highest odds ratios for behavioral problems,” they noted, “were observed for children who had both prenatal and postnatal exposure to cell phones compared with those who were not exposed during either time period.”

“Exposure to cell phones prenatally—and, to a lesser degree, postnatally—was associated with behavioral difficulties such as emotional and hyperactivity problems around the age of school entry. These associations may be noncausal and may be due to unmeasured confounding. If real, they would be of public health concern given the widespread use of this technology.” The authors had already adjusted their findings for the sex of the children, the age of mothers, their psychiatric history, socio-occupational aspects, and whether or not they smoked during pregnancy.

Danish Studies on Maternal Cell Phone Use and Its Association to ADHD

In his 2020 book, EMF*D, New York Times best-selling author Dr. Joseph Mercola writes of two studies out of Denmark involving 42,000 children, which documented an association between cell phones and ADHD: “Researchers found that if a mother talked on a cell phone while pregnant, her child would go on to have a 50 percent higher risk of ADHD. And if a mother kept the cell phone on continuously, that increased risk was 100 percent higher.”

In Utero Exposure to Wireless Devices Is Linked to Childhood Obesity

A July 2012 study out of Stanford University found that children exposed to high EMF levels, from microwave ovens, “countless wireless devices” and “wireless networks” in utero had a 69% higher risk of becoming overweight or obese in their childhood. As dosages of EMF increased, so, too, did incidences of obesity. “Maternal exposure to high MF [magnetic fields] during pregnancy may be a new and previously unknown factor contributing to the world-wide epidemic of childhood obesity/overweight,” they wrote.

Maternal Exposure to Wireless Networks & Cell Phones During Pregnancy Is Related to Increased Childhood Asthma

An October 2011 study out of Kaiser Permanente in Northern California found a significant relationship between maternal daily magnetic field exposure levels during pregnancy and an increased risk of asthma in children. For every 1-milligauss increase of maternal exposure, odds of their offspring contracting asthma increased by 15%.

Thankfully, despite these eye-opening (and possibly depressing) studies, I believe that we as parents can take simple actions to overcome or mitigate many of the dangers inherent in the use of wireless devices. I believe we can, with caution and good judgment, still, safely enjoy the benefits of the technology that we as a society have gotten so accustomed to.

Suggestions on How to Use a Cell Phone While Pregnant

    1. Don’t ;). It is both widely known and widely accepted that women shouldn’t smoke while pregnant, and I suggest the same logic be applied to cell phones, with both future parents setting their phones aside entirely for the duration of their pregnancy, except for those few times when they are absolutely necessary. And during those times, I suggest the following:
    2. Do not carry a cell phone on you—not in your pocket, not in your bra—and put as much distance as possible between you and your cell phone: a briefcase or purse is far better than a pocket.
    3. Put your cell phone in airplane mode at all times except when you are actually using it.
    4. Use your cell phone in speaker mode when placing or accepting calls, and position it a distance away from you, such as on a table.
    5. Don’t use a laptop or tablet with it resting in your lap, but place it on a table instead.
    6. Insofar as possible, always choose wired devices over wireless devices: Internet connectivity (Ethernet over Wi-Fi), phones, computer mice, computer keyboards, use computers rather than cell phones; and try to use even these as infrequently as possible. Pregnancy is a great opportunity to dive into new books, ground yourself, and engage in real-world hobbies.
    7. Remove your Wi-Fi router entirely, or install it as far away from you as possible and power it down at night and at times when you are not using it. When using Wi-Fi, connect only to download what you need, then disconnect.
    8. Do not use electric blankets, electric heating pads, an electric bed base, frame or foundation during pregnancy. All of them continuously emit EMFs.
    9. Avoid using wireless devices in vehicles and elevators.
    10. Reduce your daily use of wireless devices as much as humanly possible—the American average of 5.4 hours daily is far, far, far too many!
    11. Never, ever, rest or place a wireless device or your cell phone on your abdomen, belly, stomach or between your legs while pregnant. (I find it’s very easy to inadvertently do so while driving.)
    12. As part of your pregnancy planning, get a home EMF inspection from a knowledgeable specialist, and heed their advice as to moving altogether (if financially feasible), or take extensive prevention and mitigation actions.
    13. When preparing home to bring baby back, never use baby monitors. Wireless and video baby monitors are particularly bad and unnecessarily increase infant radiation exposure. Co-sleeping is also the best way to respond to your baby’s needs through the night, while electrical monitoring increases EMF exposure and is really no substitute for human interaction.

Important Resources On Cell Phones, Protection and Pregnancy

As science strongly suggests that cell phone use and EMF exposure can be dangerous to pregnant women and their unborn children, the following are important resources that expectant mothers will find very helpful:

Physical Protection:

Books:

  • EMF*D: 5G, Wi-Fi & Cell Phones: Hidden Harms and How to Protect Yourself
  • Radiation Nation: Fallout of Modern Technology – Your Complete Guide to EMF Protection & Safety: The Proven Health Risks of Electromagnetic Radiation (EMF) & What to Do Protect Yourself & Family
  • Cancer and EMF Radiation: How to Protect Yourself from the Silent Carcinogen of Electropollution
  • The Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs: How to Fix Our Stupid Use of Technology

Websites:

So, Why the Dangerous or Dismissive Advice on Cell Phone Use While Pregnant?

We opened this article with the complete suggestions given regarding “Mobile Devices” in the world’s best-selling pregnancy book, which I felt were inadequate and possibly dangerous. On the whole, however, the book is a helpful and data-filled resource. So how might it—and many other sources—have gone so wrong when it came to cell phones?

Here, in my opinion, is your answer, borrowed from scientists, Ph. Ds, researchers and authors, most of whom have spent from years to decades in direct contact with the field.

  • “The study of human genetic defects from electromagnetic energy is still in a primitive stage. In the case of microwaves, this situation is largely due to obstruction by military and government agencies. Even in World War II, rumors of radar-induced sterility were so rampant that sailors often gave themselves ‘treatments’ before shore leave.”—Robert O. Becker, MD, and Gary Selden, THE BODY ELECTRIC, p. 301, © 1985
  • We are living in a world where information does not increase knowledge, nor open eyes. The cultural barriers are too great. Society has been in denial for too long. And yet it is impossible to continue on the present path any longer. Decisions are being made to intensify the global microwave rain, before 2020, from a steady drizzle to a downpour.” – Arthur Firstenberg, THE INVISIBLE RAINBOW, p.385, © 2017
  • “In 1964 a group of researchers studying Down’s syndrome at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, after linking the malady to excess X rays given to pregnant women, found an unexpected further correlation with fathers working near radar. It was a full decade before any money was allocated to follow up this finding…”—Robert O. Becker, MD, and Gary Selden, THE BODY ELECTRIC, p. 301, © 1985
  • “The stonewalling continues. Grants for serious consideration of electropollution’s dangers have been cut to a trickle in the United States, but some findings continue to emerge, especially from other countries.”—Robert O. Becker, MD, and Gary Selden, THE BODY ELECTRIC, p. 302, © 1985
  • “Most of the studies performed in the United States that conclude no negative effect are funded either directly or indirectly… by cell phone manufacturers and carriers.” – Tim Ferris, THE 4-HOUR BODY, © 2010
  • Silicon Valley engineer turned tech health advocate, Jeromy Johnson, says the science is “heavily influenced by industry funding.” Referencing an analysis of 362 studies, he says, “70% of the independent studies showed effects, and only 32% of the industry-funded studies showed effects.” – Jeromy Johnson, Wireless Wake-Up Call, 18 February 2016
  • “The data to prove this has been available since 1930, but no one investigated it. Consequently, the ‘wars’ on cancer and cardiovascular diseases are doomed to failure, because a critical etiologic factor has not been recognized. What’s more, these very diseases are now increasing in direct proportion to our increasing exposures to high-technology electrical devices.” – Samuel Milham, MD, MPH, DIRTY ELECTRICITY, p. Xi, © 2010 – 2012

Diving Deeper—“Death for Sale:” The News Media & Corporate Interests in Stifling Research Data on Cigarette Dangers

In Ben Bagdikian’s stunning 2004 exposé, The New Media Monopoly, he shares the following:“The most shameful conspiracy in the history of American news and a major advertiser was the prolonged complicity of the news and advertising media in suppressing or neutralizing the irrefutable evidence that smoking cigarettes kills. […]“For decades, newspapers, with rare exceptions, kept smoking deaths out of the news, even after a 1927 definitive study in England made it inexcusable. […]“But for years newspapers (for whom the top three or four advertisers were always tobacco companies) faithfully reprinted the reports of the tobacco industry public relations operation, the Tobacco Institute, that there was no proven cause-and-effect between smoking and cancer. It seemed that the science of epidemiology that solved the problem of the bubonic plague, typhoid fever, and many other notorious killers of human beings was not applicable to tobacco.”

Fast forward to today.

The “plot” is identical.

The cell phone industry’s “Tobacco Institute” is ICNIRP—the International Committee of Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, complete with copious alleged conflicts of interests.1  2  3  4

The central character is played by a new actor: Cell Phones are the Cigarettes of the 21st Century,” says Dr. Joseph Mercola.

With cigarettes, getting their manufacturers and “the media” to place people in front of profits required an incredible, decades-long battle, at a time when cigarette advertising made up a fraction of total media ad spend. Contrast that with smartphones and their networks and it isn’t just a “novel new product” and a small yet powerful band of ad men and ad women, but the very platform on which almost ALL advertising is now delivered.

In 2019, mobile advertising worldwide netted $190,000,000,000—one hundred ninety billion dollars, a number expected to reach $280-billion by 2022. An estimated 83.3% of Google’s $120-billion dollar annual revenue is from advertising. A full 98.5% of Facebook’s 2019 revenue was, likewise, from advertising.

If the platform is free, people are the commodity: Your time and attention are astoundingly profitable.

While smartphones are indeed likely the “cigarettes of the 21st Century,” a significant difference today is they are not just a handful of ads, but the very platform on which almost all ad revenue is made. Not a sold soul is about to come out with trumpets blaring to tell you, yes, your smartphone can harm you, or very possibly, even end the life of your unborn child.

But again, as with cigarettes, there are “rare exceptions”—research studies accepted and printed, books published, media articles emerging on the harmful effects of electromagnetic energy. Just witness the studies covered above, or a December 2017 headline from no less than Reuters Health: “Miscarriage Rates Triple for Women with Top Radiation Exposures: Pregnant women exposed to high radiation levels from sources like cell phones, wireless devices and cell towers miscarried at nearly three times the rate as those exposed to low levels, according to new research.”

So, there is hope ahead. As more safety features, stricter laws, and regulatory changes become more and more required and enforceable, the burden of research and of vigilance will rest less and less upon us as parents.

Good Luck & God Bless

I believe that you as an expectant mother or father will come to discover that the health and wellbeing of your beautiful new boy or girl requires a loving vigilance unlike any other. The precious feeling of birthing new life is unparalleled; there’s nothing else in the world even vaguely like it. And there’s nothing a mother will let stand between her and her baby. The rewards for your vigilance and inquisitiveness will last forever. Because it may yet be some years before the full effects of smartphone and wireless devices make front-page news, in the meantime, we’ll have to think and inquire for ourselves, question everything and look at the science.

That you searched for this topic is laudable in itself. You’ll be a great parent!

Make your own calls (no pun intended), and set your own boundaries. Smartphones and their technology are incredible, empowering, and, unfortunately, pretty addicting. I believe bearing and raising a child is an important time in which to temporarily sever this connection insofar as humanly possible, and I’d suggest the same to the 1 in 8 couples who tragically suffer from infertility—though out of necessity, we’ll leave the details on that for another time.

Good luck and God bless!

Laura Koniver, MD

Laura Koniver, MD, is an author, educator, holistic physician, and internationally recognized grounding advocate. She has been interviewed by multiple media outlets including FoxNews and First for Women and is a featured expert protagonist in The Grounded, Heal for Free and the award-winning films, Down To Earth and The Earthing Movie. She launched the world’s first and only line of organic and eco-friendly grounding tools and writes a featured health column in the organic lifestyle magazine MaryJones Farm. Her fourth book, The Earth Prescription, was published in May 2020 by New Harbinger Publications. Her popular health and lifestyle blog can be found at Intuition-Physician.com