How Keepsake Ultrasounds Could Be Harming Baby

When I was pregnant with my little one, I wasn’t too interested in ultrasounds considering they weren’t medically necessary in my low-risk pregnancy (according to my midwife). I did have one ultrasound, though, at roughly 20 weeks to make sure Baby was developing normally and to identify the position of the placenta.

We didn’t even use it to identify the sex of the baby! We waited until Baby was born to learn that. (spoiler alert: she’s a girl!)

Since then there’s been a string of pregnancies in my world – from cousins to friends to coworkers – and almost all of these newly pregnant women have opted for an ultrasound at every prenatal checkup PLUS additional “keepsake” ultrasounds.

You know, those “meet your baby” optional ultrasounds – often in 3D and 4D or to capture video – folks are getting to see their baby more frequently and to add to pregnancy souvenirs? The ones without any medical necessity?

Well, not too long ago the FDA issued a consumer update cautioning parents to avoid optional ultrasounds.

But first, what IS an ultrasound?

According to the American Pregnancy Association:

“An ultrasound exam is a procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves to scan a woman’s abdomen and pelvic cavity, creating a picture (sonogram) of the baby and placenta.”

While there’s no current evidence showing direct harm to the fetus (to be fair, there’s been very little research as well), “the FDA strongly discourages their use for creating fetal keepsake images and videos.” (source)

Why? Here’s what Shahram Vaezy, Ph.D., an FDA biomedical engineer, has to say in the FDA consumer update:

“Ultrasound can heat tissues slightly, and in some cases, it can also produce very small bubbles (cavitation) in some tissues.” (source)

Here’s the risk: we just don’t know what the long-term effects of tissue heating and cavitation are!

Vaezy goes on to say:

“…[in a commercial setting] the number of sessions or the length of a session in scanning a fetus is uncontrolled, and that increases the potential for harm to the fetus and eventually the mother.” (source)

So here’s what the FDA recommends:

“…ultrasound scans should be done only when there is a medical need, based on a prescription, and performed by appropriately-trained operators.” (source)

They go on to say:

“Persons who promote, sell or lease ultrasound equipment for making ‘keepsake’ fetal videos should know that FDA views this as an unapproved use of a medical device.” (source)

It is important to note that when used by prescription, as advised by a doctor (which is usually only 2-3 ultrasound images for pregnant women according to Jeff Chapa, MD, Head of the Section of Maternal-Fetal Medicine in Cleveland Clinic Children’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology) ultrasounds are a valuable tool in prenatal care.

Before you decide to get one of those exciting new 3D or 4D images, consider this – a healthy baby is all the souvenir you need from your pregnancy.

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