Prenatal Portraits: Darling or Dangerous?
Many businesses offer ultrasound pictures and videos of unborn babies for entertainment purposes, but some experts say these fun pictures could be harmful.
The Power of Imaging
In medicine, the advantages and disadvantages of procedures and
treatments are constantly evaluated. As Patricia D. Stahr, executive director
of the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine remarks, "Risk exists in
For her and for her organization, the risk of a keepsake
ultrasound outweighs its benefits. "I wouldn't undergo any procedure that
may cause a harmful effect unless I had to," says Stahr.
The Society endorses the AIUM's statement on ultrasounds, which
recommends use only when there is a medical need. Other groups that support
this position include the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS), the
American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS), and the American
College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
According to the AIUM, diagnostic ultrasound has been around
since the late 1950s. Since its use, there has been no significant evidence
showing imaging harms patients or operators. One problem is that it would be
unethical to expose people to ultrasound energy for research purposes.
Officials at the FDA point to research suggesting prenatal
ultrasound exposure may cause delayed speech in children and left-handedness in
boys. In higher doses, ultrasound energy can raise temperature in metals and
treat bone fractures, sprains, and pulled muscles.
The power of ultrasound energy must be respected, say
"One must be cautious [with ultrasound], not just use it
because you want to use it," says Lawrence Platt, MD, director of the
Center for Fetal Medicine and Woman's Ultrasound in Los Angeles and past
president of the AIUM. "It doesn't mean that we believe that every time you
use an ultrasound, you're harming a fetus. But it also doesn't mean we can
guarantee that it is safe. No one can guarantee it is safe."
Mark Hayward, owner of 3DBabyVu, disagrees. "It's totally
safe," he says. "High-risk [obstetric] patients are actually put
through a protocol of weekly or biweekly ultrasound exams in their last
trimester. It makes me wonder, why would the babies at most risk see the
highest amount of ultrasound if it wasn't safe?"
To reassure customers, Hayward says 3DBabyVu employs licensed
sonographers who use the lowest ultrasound frequency possible and for no more
than 20 minutes.
Platt says ultrasound exposure at any length of time or level
does not ensure protection from harm. "This isn't something that should be
randomly done without really strong medical indications."
Laurinda Andrist, RDMS, RDCS, president of SDMS, agrees, noting
that in the obstetrics office where she works, she is careful not to overuse
ultrasound on even the most high-risk patients. "The women don't come in
and have an ultrasound at every visit," she says. "We need to manage
their care and have medical information extracted from that
Emphasizing the need for prudence, Andrist points to
radiographers who used to take random X-ray pictures of their hands, only to
find out years later that the radiation was harmful for them.