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.
"I'd just really like to hug my baby now."
Robert Wolfson, MD, PhD, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist
with a private practice in Colorado Springs, Colo., says he hears this comment
all the time from parents who see their baby through his 3-D ultrasound
machine. His office provides keepsake imaging in conjunction with, or
independent of, a diagnostic exam.
"People respond to a 3-D ultrasound imaging experience in a
wholly different way than they ever, ever did," says Wolfson. "What
families have told me is that they can really see their baby. They feel that
this is someone, not a something."
The experience usually elicits a positive reaction from his
patients, with many women vowing to take better care of themselves. Some begin
to recognize that their smoking habits and other risky behaviors may affect
While there is no scientific evidence demonstrating the medical
value of keepsake imaging, Wolfson says he and his colleagues in Colorado
Springs see its true worth: "The physicians in my community consider it a
medically indicated procedure because they personally refer people in for
services. They see the value it brings to the pregnancy in terms of the
connection and the commitment to the pregnancy that results."
Not all keepsake imaging centers have medical doctors and
licensed technicians on board, which is what concerns Jeffrey Ecker, MD, vice
chairman of the ACOG Committee on Ethics. He worries that non-medical
sonography may falsely reassure women of their baby's health or cause undue
anxiety over findings that may turn out to be nothing at all.
In an extreme case, a woman might get a keepsake ultrasound,
and thinking that her baby is fine, fails to see a doctor either because of
insurance, financial, or scheduling issues.
"She goes along, and, indeed, it turns out that there was
some issue with growth, development, or positioning of the baby," says
Ecker. "The patient was inappropriately reassured by having an ultrasound
that looked nice to her and to the folks performing it."
Another concern has to do with abnormalities that may be
detected during entertainment ultrasounds. Non-medical personnel may not be
able to provide proper counseling to patients, says Ecker, who notes that even
a prior medical ultrasound does not guarantee a normal outcome at the next
Moms and dads make decisions about their children all the time.
If they are provided with as much information as possible, and are presented
with quality service that meets FDA and AIUM guidelines in regards to
experienced personnel, they should have the right to choose whether they want
to take keepsake portraits, says Wolfson. He is a fellow of the AIUM and a
consultant to the FDA.
If a woman gets a prescription from her obstetrician to get a
keepsake ultrasound done, then that's fine, says Tom Dunham, director of
communications for New York State Sen. Dean G. Skelos. "But there needs to
be some oversight from a licensed medical professional."