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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.

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."

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 their child.

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 screening.

Parents' Choice

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."

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