First alcohol and cigarettes, now cell phones?

New warnings for pregnant women.

Gregory Nemec

Gregory Nemec

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Women might want to dial back their cell phone use when they are pregnant. According to a Yale study, heavy cell phone use by pregnant women could alter the development of the fetal brain and make it more likely their children will be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Lead researcher Hugh S. Taylor ’83, a reproductive endocrinologist at the medical school, stresses that the study (published March 15 in Scientific Reports) was conducted on mice, so how it applies to humans is unknown. For one thing, mice “don’t have ADHD.” But the study did find persistent ADHD-like behavior—hyperactivity and impaired memory—in young rodents whose mothers had protracted exposure to cell phone radiation while they were pregnant.

Taylor’s team placed a basic cell phone in a fixed location on top of each cage, between two and eight inches from the mice. In some cages, the phones were on—and receiving an uninterrupted, muted call—during the entire gestation; in others, they were on and receiving calls for 9 or 15 hours a day. The phones in the control cages were kept off.

After the mice gave birth, the researchers compared the behavior of the offspring. They examined their brains and found that the offspring of the cell phone–exposed rodents showed significant changes in the circuitry of the prefrontal cortex. The defect is in the same area as brain changes observed, using imaging techniques, in humans with ADHD.

“This is a cause for real concern,” Taylor says. Further, a recent Danish study found epidemiological evidence of a link between cell phone use in pregnancy and behavioral disorders in children. His advice? A small adjustment can have a big effect. “Put the phone in your back pocket, take it off your nightstand, and just keep your phone as far away from your abdomen as possible.”  

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