Traveling during pregnancy is not recommended, however in some situations it can be necessary. Every pregnant woman gets worried with reason when she has to pass through metal detectors at any airport.
According to Health Physics Society, walk through metal detectors on airports give off non-ionizing radiation, therefore long term exposure to these will not increase any risk of birth defect as well as miscarriage.
The truth is that metal detectors located on airports use a low-frequency electromagnetic field, and their main purpose is searching for weapons. Even household appliances that we have in our homes produce some kind of electromagnetic field, so exposure of pregnant women to such sources of radiation, including wands that most of the security personnel use to scan passengers is considered safe.
A lot of people assume that walk through metal detectors in airports use X ray to detect metals, but they don’t. From the other side, X-ray scan is used for luggage scan, and the radiation they emit has the same power as dental X-ray used in dentists offices. These metal detector devices used for luggage scanning are completely safe for those who work with it as they are shielded from employees.
There are two different types of metal detectors installed in US airports. Both of these types of detectors are used to detect objects that might be hidden under the clothes. One of these detectors raised health concerns as it uses low X rays, and the other one is less controversial though as it works on the principles of electromagnetic waves.
However, TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) claims that the backscatter machines that use low X rays are not dangerous and that they don’t represent any risk for pregnant women. From the other side, medical experts want to know whether those walk through metal detectors have been testes thoroughly enough. The question is what would happen if those metal detectors would stop to work properly. Would they emit more radiation without anyone noticing that issue? For this reason, a lot of passengers, including pregnant women opt for a pat-down search instead, which is much safer.
The radiation of walk through metal detectors is in most situations considered safe, and even accidental exposure to rays in baggage handlers will not cause any harm. Also, since a lot of people transport baby food and other important items such as medicine, in their hand luggage, there are no long term effects on their exposure to metal detectors.
Ionizing radiation can increase the risks of birth defects and miscarriage, however most of the metal detectors use non-ionizing radiation, or some that use give off a much lower level of radiation. Radiation is measured in RED, ROENTGEN or REM units. In international equivalent these units are SIEVERT or GRAY. Saying this, pregnant women shouldn’t be exposed to more than 0.5 REM during their entire pregnancy, or 0.05 REM per month. For example, a 3 hour round flight can exposure a pregnant woman to 0.005 REM and at the same time the overall effect of a walk though metal detector in that case will be totally negligible.
In conclusion, walk through metal detectors cannot harm a pregnant woman and its fetus, but it is advised that women, who are working with such and similar equipment very often, be prudent. Staying away from such devices as much as possible is beneficial to anyone´s health. There are as well badges that can be worn on a shirt that measures the radiation levels, which is recommended to people that are concerned about long term radiation exposure.