Do Cell Phones Harm Unborn Babies?

An author of a new study says his research has been largely misunderstood.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 12:27 AM

May 20, 2008 — -- Medical experts say media reports of a study that suggests a pregnant woman's cell phone use could cause later behavioral problems in her baby raise unnecessary alarm.

In the study, slated for publication in the July issue of the journal Epidemiology, researchers at the Universities of California, Los Angeles, and Aarhus, Denmark, issued a survey to mothers of 13,159 children in Denmark. The survey asked the mothers questions about their use of cell phones during their pregnancy as well as their child's behavior and their current cell phone use.

The researchers found that the mothers who said they used cell phones during their pregnancy also reported a higher level of behavioral problems in their children.

But while the results suggested an increased risk of hyperactivity, impulsivity and difficulty concentrating in children whose mothers used cell phones during pregnancy, epidemiological experts -- including one of the paper's authors -- said it would be a mistake to assume that the findings were conclusive.

In fact, Dr. Jorn Olsen, professor and chair of epidemiology at UCLA and a co-author of the paper, said media coverage of the research thus far has been off target.

Olsen specifically referred to a report in the British press with the headline "Warning: Using a Mobile Phone While Pregnant Can Seriously Damage Your Baby."

"That's clearly not what we wanted to suggest, and we think that there is no reason that pregnant women should be very alarmed at the findings we have," Olsen said.

He added that he and his colleagues had not expected the paper to be released until next month.

"I think that a number of journalists broke the story on this and that they did not take all of the assumptions into consideration [when reporting it]," he said.

Charles Poole, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said that a number of factors could have been at play in this preliminary study that would have thrown the results off one way or the other.