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Pregnancy and Radiology: A Guide to Safe Imaging

Pregnancy is a time of great joy, but it is a delicate journey where one has to ensure the health and safety of the fetus and the mother. Expectant mothers may need imaging procedures like MRIs, X-rays, Ultrasound, etc, and there are concerns about the potential risks to the baby’s health. So, it is essential to have the requisite knowledge and information to alleviate safety concerns and make well-informed decisions to ensure the well-being of the fetus and the baby. Read below to learn more about pregnancy and radiology.

Book an online appointment with Dr. Vaishnavi Madhavan for Pregnancy & Gynecology related issues.

Understanding Pregnancy and Radiology

One of the common challenges faced by doctors is radiation exposure, which happens in pregnancy imaging as both the baby and the mother are involved. Unrecognised or recognised pregnancies will likely have imaging tests as part of clinical tests for many conditions. There are risks because of a lack of proper understanding of safety. Hence, many women prefer to avoid these tests, which are valuable in managing certain health conditions. While a risk-benefit assessment has to be made by the doctors, the decision should be made more on the medical necessity and how it can potentially impact the fetus. An assessment has to be made on whether these can be delayed until pregnancy completion without compromising the health of the mother and baby. Doctors may also opt to go for non-ionising radiation imaging, which is less risky and hence among the preferred choices for imaging of expectant mothers. Here are a few non-ionising and ionising radiation techniques. While non-ionising radiations are completely safe during pregnancy, ionising radiations can harm the baby depending on the dosage and the time of exposure.


This imaging is considered safe during pregnancy as there are no adverse effects. It is an early pregnancy radiology routinely used in prenatal monitoring and screening. It uses sound waves to create images of the reproductive organs of the mother and the fetus without using ionising radiation. So, it is at the frontline when it comes to preferred imaging. Evaluation of chromosomal abnormalities like Down’s syndrome and imaging of the spinal cord and abdominal wall are done in early pregnancy. During later stages, blood flow to the baby, organ development, growth, and baby weight can be assessed through an ultrasound. So, ultrasound can be used to assess the pregnancy outcome and also other clinical issues of mother and baby safely without any major risk.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

It is another reliable method of imaging that does not use ionising radiation. It is specifically used in conditions where the placenta is abnormally attached and needs to be evaluated.  


X-rays do not emit large amounts of radiation that cause adverse effects on the fetus. They are rarely used in pregnancies except for specific reasons where an abdominal shield is used during imaging.

Computed Tomography

CT scans use X-ray images taken from various angles to create detailed cross-sectional images of the body. While there is no evidence of harm to the fetus, it is recommended only when there is an absolute need.

Guidelines For Safe Imaging During Pregnancy

  • Consult with your healthcare provider to discuss if there is a need for the procedure, risks, benefits and alternative options. They will then assess and make recommendations based on the gestational age and medical history.
  • When possible, non-urgent imaging should be postponed until after the first trimester to reduce the risk of developing fetus. However, for urgent medical reasons, steps to minimise radiation should be taken to minimise exposure.
  • During imaging procedures that involve ionising radiation, like CT scans and X-rays, radiation shielding should be followed to protect the uterus from unnecessary exposure.
  • Whenever it is possible, healthcare providers should opt for alternative imaging that does not use ionising radiation for pregnant women.
  • Expectant mothers who undergo imaging procedures should get comprehensive information about the procedure and potential risks, benefits and alternatives. Informed consent should be obtained before the procedure so that they make well-informed decisions.

The safety of imaging during pregnancy depends on many factors, including the gestation age, timing of exposure, specific medical conditions and precautions taken. Before a radiology scan for pregnancy, it is best to be transparent and have open communication between the referring physician, radiologist and the expectant mother to minimise radiation exposure.  


1. Which radiology technique is safe for the pregnant woman?

Ultrasound scans and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) are safe imaging techniques for pregnant women. However, these techniques should be used only when necessary to benefit the patient.

2. Is X-ray imaging safe during pregnancy?

A single X-ray is unlikely to harm an unborn child as the risk is minimal. However, prolonged exposure can be risky to the fetus. The benefits of X-rays generally outweigh the potential risks.

3. How many scans are done in pregnancy?

A minimum of five scans are done throughout pregnancy. Depending upon the condition, more scans can be referred.

4. What is a vaginal scan?

A vaginal scan is done when the ultrasound probe is inserted into the vagina for imaging. This is usually done during early pregnancy and later stages for specific indications.

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