Radiation Exposure During Pregnancy

There are additional health and safety considerations for employees who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy to minimize exposure of their unborn child.

While an employee is not required to stop working with radiation during pregnancy, there are radiation dose limits that must be observed to ensure the safety of the fetus.

EH&S offers services to pregnant UW employees to help them manage the risks of radiation exposure while pregnant and to keep radiation doses as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA).

What you need to know

An employee who is pregnant can choose to declare their pregnancy. This will start a process to monitor the dose to the embryo/fetus to verify that the dose received is uniform throughout the pregnancy (not all received in a short period of time) and that appropriate action can be taken before reaching the regulatory fetal dose limit of 500 mrem during the pregnancy.

There is no requirement or obligation to declare a pregnancy, and an employee may choose to rescind their declaration at any time. Declared pregnancies will be handled as confidential. Supervisors and Area Dosimetry Coordinators (ADCs) will not be informed unless necessary.

A fetal monitor will be issued by EH&S upon request and may be cancelled by the requestor at any time. The fetal dose will be monitored according to state and federal requirements. Occupational exposure may need to be reduced as needed based on the fetal monitor readings to limit the risk to the developing fetus.

An employee who would like to monitor their fetal exposure should declare their pregnancy as early in the pregnancy as possible. Any actions deemed necessary to limit risk to the fetus will be based on the estimated dose to the fetus since the conception month.

An employee who currently works with radiation, but does not have a dosimeter, may still declare their pregnancy. They will be issued a personal dosimeter in addition to a fetal monitor. Additional information on personal dosimeters is provide on the Dosimetry webpage

What you can do to stay safe

Practice the 3 key principles for keeping radiation doses ALARA.

  • Minimize your time in a radiation field
  • Maximize your distance from a source of radiation
  • Utilize shielding that is available

An employee who is pregnant can choose to declare their pregnancy to EH&S by completing a Request for Fetal Monitoring. Radiation Safety will monitor your exposure closely and will inform you of any unexpected results.

EH&S services

EH&S will provide the following services to all UW employees:

  • Provide information on the risks associated with radiation exposure.
  • Issue personal dosimetry when necessary to monitor individuals exposed to ionizing radiation.

EH&S will provide the following services to a UW employee who has declared a pregnancy:

  • Issue a fetal monitor to the employee.
  • Provide monthly fetal dosimetry results to the employee.
  • Review fetal dosimetry results to ensure they fall below the state and federal voluntary gestational limit of 500 mrem from the time the fetal monitor was issued.

More information

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

You should continue to wear your other dosimeter(s) as you were previously wearing it/them. Your fetal dosimeter is worn at or near the waist, below any protective lead that you wear during your work. Your dosimeter(s) may be distributed more frequently to match the monthly monitoring schedule of the fetal dosimeter.

You do not need to take any action to enroll in the fetal monitoring program until you have a confirmed pregnancy. However, it’s still important to maintain your exposures as ALARA. At that time, you may declare your pregnancy. If you are not currently enrolled in the UW Dosimetry program, it is beneficial to declare your pregnancy as early in the pregnancy as possible.

The dose limit conservatively applies to the dose from your personal dosimeter since fetal dosimeters are not available from the start of the pregnancy. The readings from your personal dosimeter will apply to the fetal dose limit starting from the month of conception. If you are not currently enrolled in the UW dosimetry program, it is beneficial to declare your pregnancy as early in the pregnancy as possible.

If you are concerned about radiation dose you may have received at any point in your pregnancy, contact Radiation Safety directly at radsaf@uw.edu or 206.543.0463.

Historically, declared pregnant workers have maintained their fetal dose well below the regulatory limit. This is in large part due to the standard radiation protection processes in place at the University. However, employees in certain occupations, such as fluoroscopy operators in Cardiac Catheterization, Interventional Radiology, or Vascular Surgery, do receive doses greater than 500 mrem during a nine-month period. If there was a situation where a pregnant worker was approaching the regulatory limit, Radiation Safety will work with those individuals and their supervisors on a case-by-case basis to keep fetal doses ALARA and below the regulatory limit.

The fetal dose limit of 500 mrem during gestation is a legal limit specified by regulation (WAC 246-221-055). If the limit is exceeded specific action must be taken, including reporting the over exposure to the Washington State Department of Health, Office of Radiation Protection. Other required actions would vary on a case-by-case basis dependent on an investigation into the cause of the overexposure.


As Low As Reasonably Achievable

A UW employee who has declared their pregnancy to EH&S Radiation Safety by submitting a Request for Fetal Monitoring.

A radiation detector that records the amount of radiation dose received over a specific period of time

A radiation dosimeter issued for monitoring radiation dose to the abdomen of a pregnant employee

A radiation dosimeter issued for monitoring radiation dose to an individual