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Health & Pregnancy

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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 continued...

"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 examination."

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.

Precious Moments

"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."

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