The Ultrasound- What You Need to Know

Pregnancy is a beautiful moment, each time it happens a mother is born, along with a baby. With each of my pregnancies my development as a woman, and a birth worker is evident by the choices I have made. For example my first pregnancy with my twins, I knew very little, the basics really. I stood up for myself and my wishes for my babies in many respects, but the second time around. I chose to be under the care of a midwife, and I had a Doula, labored in water, danced myself into labor to avoid induction. My current pregnancy, I am choosing home birth in water under the care of a midwife, I don’t even know the sex of the baby. The evolution of knowledge and how this affects my decision making is amazing to me.

“Wait you don’t know the sex of the baby?”

No, I do not it’s another part of my birth experience that I wanted control over, My husband knows, from the one scan that I accepted around 20 weeks gestation. I haven’t had any further temptation to find out, because I refuse to have any more ultrasounds done unless it is medically necessary.

Typically the ultrasound is a major feature of prenatal care, as is listening to the baby’s heartbeat with a doppler. Many parents look forward to these appointments because it offers the opportunity to have keepsake pictures and it eases a mother’s mind to see exactly what is happening in there. But should we give extra thought to what is happening when we have an ultrasound? Is it possible to have too many?

Let’s look more closely at this

The purpose of Fetal Ultrasound Imaging

Fetal ultrasound imaging provides real-time images of the fetus. Doppler fetal ultrasound heartbeat monitors are hand-held ultrasound devices that let you listen to the heartbeat of the fetus. Both are prescription devices designed to be used by trained health care professionals. They are not intended for over-the-counter (OTC) sale or use, and the FDA strongly discourages their use for creating fetal keepsake images and videos. Sound familiar?

In 2014, Shahram Vaezy, Ph.D., an FDA biomedical engineer explains, “Ultrasound can heat tissues slightly, and in some cases, it can also produce very small bubbles (cavitation) in some tissues.” The long term effects of heating these tissues are unknown, therefore it is safe to conclude that ultrasound exposure to mother and baby should be limited as much as possible and saved for when medically necessary. Dr Vaezy also states that proper use can be beneficial to mother and child and aid in determining the care a woman or child needs.

Sept 2016 a study Autism Research by researchers at UW Medicine, UW Bothell and Seattle Children’s Research Institute.studied the variability of symptoms among kids with autism, not what causes autism. What they found is that exposure to diagnostic ultrasound in the first trimester is linked to increased autism symptom severity. The greatest link is among kids with certain genetic variations associated with autism; 7 percent of the children in the study had those variations.*

Similar concerns surround the OTC sale and use of Doppler ultrasound heartbeat monitors. An alternative to listening to the heartbreak is the use of a fetoscope. A fetoscope is a stethoscope that is specially designed for listening to the baby’s heartbeat without the risk of invasive waves affecting the health of mom and baby.

Personal Choice

We have chosen to not only avoid unnecessary exposure by way of ultrasound, but by Doppler as well. I still get to listen to the baby’s heart beat, and you can hear bubbles and splashing with the fetoscope too! It’s really awesome. As with anything, parents must make the choices for what is best for their family, but doing so should be done with all of the information necessary : INFORMED CONSENT.

Unfortunately over the years non evidence based practices, or practices that aren’t medically necessary have crept into antenatal care. It is our responsibility to do the research and advocate for ourselves and our children.

*University of Washington Health Sciences/UW Medicine. (2016, September 1). Autism severity linked to genetics, ultrasound, data analysis finds. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 14, 2018 from

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