• An X-ray is a picture which is taken using a form of radiation that is able to pass through the body to create a digital X-ray image. Different parts of the body contain different tissues, which vary in how much X-ray radiation they absorb (depending on how dense they are). When the X-rays pass through the body, they create an image like a shadow. This means bones, soft tissues and air, for example, can be seen on the X-ray images in white, shades of grey, and black.   

    Why does my child need an X-ray?

    X-rays are performed for many different reasons, including to:

    • Check bones for fractures
    • Diagnose, and monitor diseases
    • Locate foreign bodies (e.g. if your child has swallowed a coin)

    What to expect with an X-ray

    Having an X-ray does not hurt, but in some cases, the position your child needs to be in for the X-ray may be uncomfortable. Your child will need to be still while the X-ray image is being taken. 

    Preparing for the X-ray

    Your child may be asked to change into a hospital gown before the X-ray exam. If they would prefer not to wear the hospital gown, wearing a plain T-shirt and shorts or leggings may be OK. Articles of clothing may have to be removed if they contain decoration, metal, glitter, thick elastic, string ties or plastic that may show up on the X-ray images and make important body structures difficult to see. Long hair needs to be tied up for neck and chest examinations, and nappies will be removed for all hip and pelvis examinations.

    Patients who use a wheelchair may need to be moved onto a special chair for the examination to prevent the metal parts of the wheelchair showing up on the image.

    During the X-ray

    A parent or carer is encouraged to stay with their child to help them feel comfortable about the procedure and to help them to remain still for their X-ray. Please let the technologist know if you are or may be pregnant – this will remain completely confidential. You will be able to remain with your child during all procedures.

    The time it takes to perform the X-ray examination depends on how many images are required, but it may be as little as five minutes. 

    The requirements for your child's X-ray will depend on the body part that is being examined:

    • Chest X-ray: generally involves taking one picture. If possible, your child will be imaged sitting or standing
    • Abdominal X-ray: generally involves one or two pictures. Usually the child lies on an X-ray table, although sometimes an  X-ray is also taken with the child in a sitting or standing position
    • X-rays of limbs (forearm, elbow, knee, ankle, etc.): this will require pictures of the relevant area in two or more positions, depending on the reasons for the X-ray
    • Skull X-ray: up to four different views are usually taken. Parents or carers will need to help hold the head very still
    • Skeletal survey: this involves multiple X-rays of various areas of the body, therefore the length of this procedure ranges from twenty minutes to an hour
    • EOS imaging: involves standing completely still inside the EOS scanner for a few seconds. Used for standing pictures of the spine or legs

    After the X-ray

    A report will be prepared by the Radiologist and sent to the referring doctor. The report is usually available within a few days but can be received earlier if required. If you have any questions about why your child needs an X-ray, or questions about the results of your X-ray, please speak to your doctor.

    Key points to remember

    • X-rays pass through different tissues in the body to create an image
    • Having an X-ray does not hurt, but your child will need to remain still while the image is being taken
    • A parent or carer is encouraged to stay with their child during their X-ray

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    My child is anxious about medical procedures and I am worried they won't stay still for the X-ray. How can I help?
    To get some ideas of how to talk to your child about the scan before you come to hospital, see our fact sheet. Also consider showing your child our ‘Be Positive’ videos of children having procedures at The Royal Children's Hospital (RCH). Seeing the videos may help them by knowing what to expect. You can also download our Okee in Medical Imaging app, which includes games and information especially designed to help children feel more comfortable about having medical imaging at RCH.

    Specialist staff from Child Life Therapy may also be of benefit for your child – appointments can be made in advance via Medical Imaging or your referring doctor.

    Will I need to wear a lead apron during the X-ray?
    You may be required to wear a lead apron if you remain with your child during their X-ray.

    How safe are X-rays for children? If my child needs more than one X-ray is this dangerous?
    All medical imaging procedures at RCH have been justified by a Radiologist or Specialist before the exam is performed. All imaging procedures are optimised – each study is performed with the aim to provide the highest quality imaging with the lowest radiation dose to each child.

    For more information on radiation, please see the Australian Government fact sheet: Ionising Radiation and Health, or speak to your radiographer.

    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Medical Imaging department. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed October 2018.

    This information is awaiting routine review. Please always seek the most recent advice from a registered and practising clinician.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit  www.rchfoundation.org.au.


This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.