Prenatal Ultrasound Risks & Alternatives
Almost everyone who comments on my pregnant belly asks me if it's a boy or a girl, because they assume I've had an ultrasound.
Or they ask if I know what I'm having, to which I will respond with the obvious, "A baby."
I'll then explain that the baby's gender will be a surprise because due to the risks of prenatal ultrasound, I don't choose to have one, unless it's medically indicated.
Pregnancy is an incredibly exciting and suspenseful time. You find out you're growing a new person inside your body and it's such a long wait until birth to discover what they look like and who they are.
The temptation to peak inside the womb and find out more about this new baby is so enticing and highly-promoted that many parents are not given full information on the potential consequences of the ultrasound technology.
Diagnostic ultrasound on fetuses should only be used when medically necessary for diagnosis, for as short amount of time as possible and with the lowest frequency possible. However, the recommendations of the FDA, ACOG and global health organizations are ignored by doctors and parents who assume ultrasound is safe, based on incomplete data from over 25 years ago done on outdated devices.
Today the vast majority of pregnant women are receiving an increasing amount of routine ultrasounds, sometimes at every doctor visit, despite the lack of medically indicated need or benefit for low-risk pregnancies, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.
That's not the only way unborn babies are exposed to high levels of ultrasound too - Doppler ultrasound has just as many potential concerns. Handheld Dopplers are used frequently by doctors, nurses and midwives for listening to the heart rate, which emit constant ultrasound waves rather than pulsing like the diagnostic machines. Fetuses may be exposed to ultrasound even earlier in pregnancy, when the baby may be more vulnerable through the usage of Dopplers. Plus, fetuses are regularly exposed to continuous Doppler ultrasound for hours during labor via electronic fetal heart rate monitors.
Prenatal ultrasound and dopplers sound like a great idea, to be able to see the baby and hear the baby's heartbeat, but these diagnostic tools have negative side-effects and should only be used when medically indicated.
There has been global research showing that ultrasound can cause damage to mammalian brains and tissue for a long time, yet the extent of this has been minimized in Western medicine because of the risks of conducting human studies.
New research has been released from the University of Washington showing a direct correlation between diagnostic ultrasound in the first trimester and increased severity of autism symptoms in children with a genetic predisposition to certain kinds of autism.
Dr. Sarah Buckley has been researching the risks and concerns of prenatal ultrasound for more than 20 years, and experienced 4 healthy pregnancies with zero ultrasound use. Her articles on the dangers and lack of information about the risks of ultrasound are highly recommended reading for parents-to-be and birth professionals. Her work has been a big inspiration for me!
Read through Dr. Buckley's Ultrasound Scans in Pregnancy: Your Questions Answered & Ultrasound Scans: Cause For Concern to learn about how the effects of prenatal ultrasound are known to create biological changes including cell death, tissue heating and collapse, and myelin nerve damage in mammals and more.
Extensive studies in China have shown that prenatal ultrasound should be avoided as completely as possible, yet are mostly unknown in the Western world due to translation and accessibility issues.
Ultrasound use on fetuses and women's reproductive systems has not been proven to be harmless, and no studies have been conducted on a controlled population since before 1992.
Since the early 1990's, the diagnostic frequency of ultrasound technology approved for fetuses has increased from 94 to 720 mW/cm2, and some of the previous tests were done with only a 1.5W/cm2, showing that there is far from adequate safety tests done on prenatal ultrasound today.
In addition to an increased frequency of fetal ultrasound today, other issues include lack of safety testing on the new ultrasound technology being increasingly used, including Doppler and Transvaginal Ultrasound, as well as a lack of training for technicians in how to reduce exposure.
Most ultrasound today is being conducted at 8 to 10 times the frequency than used in the older machines from 25 years ago that human studies were last done on, as well as now performed significantly more often.
Whereas, 25 years ago babies may have received one or two ultrasounds at a low frequency, now some of those same babies are new pregnant mamas having their babies scanned both 10 times as strong and as often!
There is zero research on the safety of modern prenatal ultrasound use, and no proof that prenatal ultrasound increases infant outcomes.
In obstetrics today, diagnostic ultrasound is so pervasive and repeatedly encouraged, that the idea of questioning it seems surprising.
However, there are time-honored and inexpensive ways to listen to the baby's heart and placenta without using technology that has no side effects for the baby.
A fetoscope is a safe and traditional way to listen to a baby's heartrate without the risks of prenatal ultrasound or doppler use.
A Pinard's horn is another common way for birth providers to listen to the fetal heart rate through a horn shaped device, usually made from wood or metal.
Parents can ask their doctors, nurses or midwives to use a fetoscope or Pinard horn instead of a Doppler to listen to the heart rate.
Pregnant parents who would like to listen to their baby's heart rate can easily purchase a fetoscope and learn to listen to their baby's heart. This is a much safer and affordable option than the home Doppler machines that are being sold to parents today and exposing babies to dangerous and potentially daily usage of ultrasound.
In addition to eliminating exposure to ultrasound while listening for the baby's heart rate, the fetoscope is more effective at helping parents and birth professionals to determine what position the baby is in, for the sound is amplified most strongly directly through the baby's back. This can be helpful in the third trimester to figure out the baby's position and support them to get into the optimal position for labor and birth.
Fetoscopes are a great way to listen to the fetal heart rate and have none of the risks associated with prenatal ultrasound exposure.
You have a right to ask your doctor or midwife to check heart tones with a fetoscope instead of a Doppler.
More current research and evaluation of modern ultrasound use in pregnancy and on women's reproductive systems is needed before we can assume safety in exposing fetuses and women to unnecessary procedures.
It was such a blessing not knowing the gender at the birth of my last child, for when the baby was born the first thing I experienced was connecting through our eye contact, and the depth of personality shining through, before even thinking to look at his genitals.
One thing I have experienced now as a mother, is that gender division is promoted even more strongly in pregnancy now than it used to be, as baby gear is dominated by pink frills and flowers or blue trucks and sports themes, Shopping for gender neutral infant clothing is extremely limited to the one yellow or gray outfit in a store. This is more so than I remember with the past pregnancies of my 5 or 16 year old. However, I've found some adorable sweet outfits and can't wait to discover my newborn's personality before dressing them in gender-dictated styles.
I feel this is perpetuated by the ultrasound industry who profits billions of dollars through increased diagnostic procedures, as well as the connected baby industry who profits off the marketing of baby's gender to pregnant shoppers today.
Know your options and ask for the gentle time-tested alternatives for your baby's optimal health!