I’m sure I’m not the only one whose jaw dropped on reading this headline. In fact, I’ve waited a couple of days to post about the Yale study behind it because I find its implications so potentially huge, and I didn’t want to be alarmist or add to the mountain of guilt we moms carry around at any given time in our lives. Especially given the implication that something so omnipresent as maternal cell phone use may be linked to the childhood mental disorder, namely ADHD, that has had a skyrocketing 32% increase in diagnoses over the past decade (even if, some of that increase can be attributed to more recognition of the symptoms). Regardless, I feel we must pay attention to this risk and apply common sense precautions.
Yes, but you may be thinking, this finding occurred in mice, not humans, so how relevant can it be to me and my pregnancy? Well, a lot. First, mice genes are not all that different from the human kind. Which explains why human health threats for example from chemicals in plastic or exposure to x-rays are frequently first discovered in mouse studies since the influence of environmental factors on a genetic trait can be studied under controlled conditions in a mouse. (Whereas, ethically, you can’t expose a human baby or fetus to potential harm in a controlled experiment).
The other thing that struck me about this mouse study of cell phone exposure (the active cell phones emitting radiation were simply placed on top of certain mice cages while cell phones that were inactive were placed on the other cages, thus the controlled part of the study) was that the negative behaviors in the young mice (hyperactivity, memory lapses) exposed to the cell phone frequency had a dose response relationship to the amount of phone exposure they received. That means the more exposure they got the worse the effects were on their later behavior. This brought to mind another environmental risk that has been shown to have a dose response relationship to an adolescent mental disorder: that is cannabis and early onset psychosis. As I’ve written previously, the studies confirming this link are now voluminous.
So what to do? If it were me, or my daughter-in-law, I have to vote for treating cell phone use while pregnant the same way we now treat second hand smoke exposure during pregnancy (assuming smoking wile pregnant is completely out of the question)…with an effort to avoid or minimize your exposure whenever possible. The suggestion made by one of the Yale researchers (who is herself pregnant) is for pregnant women not to carry a cell in any pocket near the belly/waist line or on a desk or table directly in front of them. Sounds like common sense and good preventive mental health care to me.
[Also, for a counterargument to the media narrative that says ADHD isn't real, read the latest data on long-term negative effects of childhood ADHD on young adults, from Child-Psych blog.]
Here’s a paragraph and a link to one article on this important Yale University study…
“Taylor and co-authors exposed pregnant mice to radiation from a muted and silenced cell phone positioned above the cage and placed on an active phone call for the duration of the trial. A control group of mice was kept under the same conditions but with the phone deactivated.
The team measured the brain electrical activity of adult mice that were exposed to radiation as fetuses, and conducted a battery of psychological and behavioral tests. They found that the mice that were exposed to radiation tended to be more hyperactive and had reduced memory capacity. Taylor attributed the behavioral changes to an effect during pregnancy on the development of neurons in the prefrontal cortex region of the brain.