What is a Safe Cell Phone Distance from a Baby?

Mobile devices are becoming an indispensable tool in our society, and even children routinely have their own cell phones. Parents often give their babies toys that look like cell phones. This conditions them to want a real cell phone at an early age. Parents may also use real cell phones as a high-tech pacifier to calm a fussing child.

However, long-term exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from devices like cell phones can be dangerous to humans. Babies are even more vulnerable to this danger due to anatomical and physiological differences. So babies should never be allowed to use cell phones.

The real question to ask is, “what’s the minimum safe cell phone distance from a baby?” Three feet is the minimum distance you should keep a cell phone from a baby.

Government regulations do address this issue in many countries, but scientific studies show they’re inadequate for protecting any of us from EMFs. Fortunately, a number of strategies exist that can help you reduce your baby’s exposure to EMFs from cell phones.

Quick note! If you’re interested in learning more about EMF radiation, Nick Pineault’s The Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs is a great read. The book explains EMF radiation AND it’s entertaining. It does cost a few dollars but I highly recommend it!

Cell Phone Regulations

Young female child eating a cracker sitting down leaning over a smart phone with the screen on watching closely

All cell phones emit EMFs at frequencies above 800 MHz, which is well into the microwave range. EMFs at these frequencies are known to be dangerous at sufficient dosages. This is why most countries limit the power output of cell phones.

Read our article on the cell phones that emit the most and least amount of radiation.

These limits are based on Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), which is a measure of the rate at which the human body absorbs EMF energy. It’s typically measured in watts of EMF power per kilogram of body weight (W/kg).

The limit for cell phone emissions in the United States is 1.6 W/kg. This hasn’t changed since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) initially set it in 1996. Cell phones in the U.S. typically emit close to this limit, and many countries have lower limits.

However, a growing body of research shows that it may be time to re-evaluate these limits.

Updating the Cell Phone Regulations

Many activists and researchers in this field feel the current government EMF limits aren’t safe for adults, let alone children.

For example, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in the U.S. reported in 2012 that it was time for the FCC to reassess the exposure and testing requirements of cell phones.

That report concluded that the FCC’s radio frequency (RF) exposure limit might not reflect the latest research on their health effects. The report added that the current testing requirements might not identify the maximum exposure in all operating conditions.

Despite the concerns of the GAO and other non-profit organizations of the Environmental Health Trust (EHT), cell-phone EMF limits still haven’t changed in the U.S. as of 2020.

Official Cell Phone Distance Recommendations

The actual minimum safe distance to maintain from a cell phone is a more difficult question to answer. But the manufacturers’ recommendations are a good place to start.

For example, Apple recommends a minimum distance of 0.2 inches from its iPhone 7.

The corresponding figure for the Google Pixel is 0.4 inches and 0.6 inches for the Samsung Galaxy.

These distances are probably the ones used when the cell phones were tested with a dummy to determine their SAR limits.

However, almost everyone holds a cell phone right against their heads when using it.

Furthermore, these limits apply only to adults, who are less vulnerable to EMF radiation than children.

Cell Phones Use and the Vulnerability of Children

Scientific studies support the idea that babies are more vulnerable to EMF radiation than adults.

Young child holding a black smart phone and putting the phone in its mouth

A 2014 review by the EHT on this subject was published in the Journal of Microscopy and Ultrastructure. It included all the available peer-review research on cell-phone exposure, along with supporting data on cell-phone dosimetry and manufacturers’ specifications.

This review generally concluded that babies face a higher risk of adverse health effects than any other group with regard to microwave radiation, including that emitted by cell phones.

The specific findings of the 2014 review included the classification of microwave radiation (MWR) as a Class 2B carcinogen, meaning that it may cause cancer. Other substances in this category include the following:

  • Carbon black
  • Carbon tetrachloride
  • Chloroform
  • DDT
  • Diesel fuel
  • Gasoline
  • Lead
  • Nickel
  • Phenobarbital
  • Styrene

Why are Children and Babies More Vulnerable to Cell Phone Radiation?

Children absorb a greater amount of MWR than adults, according to the 2014 review.

Pregnant women should, therefore, avoid exposing their fetus to MWR.

Close up of pregnant woman's belly while holding a cell phone in one hand next to her belly

Furthermore, wireless devices and other types of radio transmitters should be banned in toys.

The review also found that public awareness of government warnings on devices that emit EMF is still low. This, despite the fact that these warnings have been issued for years. In addition, the review recommended that current exposure limits be revised due to their inadequacy.

The most significant cause of the increased vulnerability to EMF in children is that they have thinner skulls. Thinner skulls are less effective at blocking radiation.

Furthermore, babies’ brains absorb radiation at a greater rate than adult brains, as shown in a 2008 study published in Physics in Medicine & Biology. That study found that the brain tissue of babies absorbed radiation at up to twice the rate of adult brains.

Furthermore, this study found the marrow in babies’ skulls to be up to ten times as absorbent as adult skulls.

A 2010 study in the same publication showed that a baby’s cerebellum RF radiation 2.5 times more readily than that of adults.

Prenatal development is characterized by rapid cellular proliferation, differentiation, and migration. This makes exposure to radiation during this period a matter of great concern to experts in human health.

A 2011 study published in the Encyclopedia of Environmental Health assessed the health effects cell phones and other non-ionizing radiation sources on fetuses. It found that a fetus is more sensitive to this radiation and thus more vulnerable to radiation-induced development pathologies.

The point of all this research is that babies aren’t simply a smaller version of adults. Their bodies have a different composition and structure that makes them more vulnerable to radiation than adults.

General Findings on the Risks of Cell Phone Radiation

Some very large studies have been made regarding the general risks of RF radiation from cell phones and other devices.

The Bioinitiative Report, last updated in 2019, summarizes the results of over 1,800 such studies.

Some of these studies examined the effects of cell phone radiation on the development of the brain and cranial bones in animals exposed while in the womb.

The most significant conclusion of this report was that EMF radiation can be harmful even at very low levels. Furthermore, the effects caused by such radiation included changes to single and double-strand DNA.

The 2010 Interphone study is the largest study so far to examine the adverse health effects of RF radiation from cell phones.

Back view of a young man in a tan suit holding a cell phone up to his ear

This study found that people who use a cell phone for 1,640 hours or more during their lifetime are twice as likely to develop a brain tumor in the temporal lobe as someone who never uses a cell phone.

The significance of this finding is that the temporal lobe is the part of the brain closest to the cellphone’s antenna when you hold the cell phone to your ear.

Members of the test group in this study who developed brain tumors were twice as likely to have the tumor on the side of the head where they used their phones.

This study also showed that using a cell phone for 30 minutes each day for ten years increases your risk of a brain tumor by 40 percent.

Protective Measures

Several simple strategies can greatly reduce the exposure of you and your children to RF radiation from cell phones, including the use of distance, airplane mode and cell-phone covers.

Distance

Maximizing the distance between your children and a cell phone in use is the easiest way to protect them from its radiation.

It’s important to understand that an object’s exposure to radiation is inversely proportional to the square of its distance from the radiation source.

For example, an object that’s two feet away from a cell phone receives one fourth the radiation from it as when the object is one foot away from the cell phone.

In other words, moving your cell phone a short distance away from your baby when you use it will result in a large reduction in radiation exposure to your baby.

You should try to keep working cell phones at least three feet from your baby at all times. This is especially true for cell phones in continuous operation, such as using a cell phone as a sleep aid for your baby.

For you, consider an airtube headset to provide some distance from your body.

Airplane Mode

Most cell phones today have a mode of operation known as airplane mode, so-named because it’s often used on airplanes.

This mode prevents a cell phone from sending and receiving signals from cellular networks. These networks are by far the greatest source of radiation from cell phones.

The advantage of airplane mode is that your cell phone can still perform offline functions such as playing games and music without the hazards caused by the cell phone’s communication functions.

Bear in mind that airplane mode doesn’t typically disable Bluetooth connections, so you’ll need to do that separately.

Anti-radiation Cases

Anti-radiation cases cover the front side of a cell phone with a flexible protective material, typically neoprene.

This design prevents radiation from reaching the user’s head when in use, while still allowing it to send and receive signals. It’s highly effective in protecting the user from the front of the cell phone, but radiation is still emitted from the back (you can also just turn the phone off).

Even worse, the case can reflect radiation towards the back of the cell phone. An anti-radiation case can thus increase radiation exposure if your baby is behind your cell phone while it’s in use.

Summary

All cell phones emit high-energy EMFs, which is known to be harmful at sufficient levels. However, the specific health risk that a cell phone poses depends on a variety of factors such as distance, mode of operation and size of the person in question. The best estimate currently available is that a cell phone should be at least three feet away from a baby while in use. Especially when it’s in continuous operation.

Don’t forget about turning Wifi off at night to reduce radiation exposure too! Read about it in our article on the health benefits of turning Wifi off at night.