This week researchers will be presenting information before the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that reveals that cell phones can interrupt an unborn babies sleep-and-wake cycle.
CBS News reports that the results are from a study that tracked fetal reactions to repetitive cellphone and beeper use among 28 resident physicians while they were pregnant. All 28 physicians were in their third trimester of pregnancy. The co-author of the study, Dr. Boris Petrikovsky, said, “We wanted to see what these devices can do to the fetus.”
Dr. Petrikovsky is a professor of obstetrics and gynecology and the director of maternal and fetal medicine at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in New York City.
He added, “…What we figured out is that if you’re a baby in-utero [in the womb] and someone wakes you up every hour, you will not be a happy camper. The sound, and perhaps even vibrations, cause a lot of ‘startle reflex’, which disturbs the normal sleep cycle.”
Although it isn’t known if the repeated startling affects the baby’s health, prior research showed that women who are resident physicians have a higher-than-average rate of pregnancy complications, including excessively high blood pressure, premature birth and low birth weight. The researchers believe this is because their job requires that they carry their phones and beepers close to their body for long periods of time.
Dr. Petrikovsky said, “We can’t say that this is definitely causing the higher pregnancy risk that has been seen. But we can say for sure that cycles of normal fetal behavior are definitely disturbed or interrupted by the frequent use of cellphones and beepers.”
However, Dr. Tomer Singer, an obstetrician and gynecologist at North Shore-LIJ Center for Human Reproduction in New York said that the information was interesting but it shouldn’t be considered conclusive. He said, “The study is very small and has no control group. Therefore, the authors’ conclusion should be taken with a grain of salt, as a much larger randomized prospective study is required in order to investigate and draw conclusions.”
All of the fetuses (who were between 27 and 41 weeks of gestation) displayed startle response when exposed to a single generated sound. Responses included head-turning, mouth-opening or blinking, the study authors said.
When devices were triggered to repeatedly ring every 10 minutes, 90 percent of the fetuses exhibited a similar startle response on the first occasion. Eighty percent of the fetuses continued to do so during subsequent rings, the findings showed.
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However, the researchers found that many of the fetuses appeared to essentially get used to the sounds. When phones and beepers were made to ring repeatedly every five minutes, the researchers observed a drop in startle reactions among more than 60 percent of the fetuses under 36 weeks’ gestation and among 90 percent of full-term fetuses.
Still, the researchers concluded that repeated exposure to the sounds of such devices, when carried near the fetal head, may get in the way of normal fetal behavior.
“Of course there are other factors that could contribute to a fetus being startled,” Petrikovsky acknowledged. “But it has previously been reported that pregnant women who reside in proximity to major airports, with planes constantly landing and taking off, also experience problems like this. So we know that noise, and especially repeated noise, can affect the baby,” he said.
“So we now recommend that women not carry cellphones and beepers in close proximity to their baby,” Petrikovsky added. “They should put it in their chest pocket or bag. The further away it is from the baby, the less chance the baby will be affected.”