The Problem with Routine Prenatal Ultrasounds

“The routine use of ultrasound in pregnancy is the biggest uncontrolled experiment in history.” Quote from Beverly Beech, birth activist.

Chances are you have had an ultrasound in your life. If you have been pregnant, you will have had at least one, possibly several ultrasounds during each pregnancy. But having an ultrasound isn’t necessarily a good thing. In fact, their safety can’t be guaranteed, and their usefulness is questionable at best.

When Ultrasound Is Used in Pregnancy

OB/GYNs commonly use ultrasounds at your first appointment (usually done vaginally). They confirm the pregnancy and check to see if the embryo is indeed implanted in the uterus. Another ultrasound is performed at around 20 weeks of gestation. This time, the doctor is trying to confirm the gestational age of the fetus and chart his or her growth. Many parents use this ultrasound to find out the sex of the baby.

Finally, an ultrasound is going to be performed if the woman exceeds her due date. At that time, your medical care provider will check your amniotic fluid levels in order to ensure that the baby is doing okay. Of course, if your doctor suspects complications, he will order additional ultrasounds. I had numerous ultrasounds done, because my baby failed to grow.

No Organization Recommends Ultrasounds

What may surprise you is that routine ultrasounds are not recommended by any major organization. Ultrasound scanning is mainly a big business concern where marketing is important. With the event of ultrasounds, many doctors have lost their ability to do things that most midwives can do in their sleep.

Today, most doctors rely exclusively on ultrasounds to check for both the growth and positioning of the baby. Many midwives who encourage natural childbirth use much simpler methods with the same precision. Instead of using ultrasound, midwives measure the height of the uterus. A practiced midwife is also able to feel for your baby and can tell you where the head is located without an ultrasound.

The Problem with Using Ultrasounds

Most studies have shown that ultrasound does not detect abnormalities it is supposedly checking for consistently. And often a problem is diagnosed in error. But even if a certain disease is diagnosed correctly in utero (of which we can never be 100% sure of), there is usually nothing that can be done for it.

Another startling fact is that while the FDA controls all medicine tightly, there are no regulations on ultrasound machines or the technicians that use them. Each machine uses a different kind of dosage.Back when ultrasound techniques were first used on women, it was cautioned that we should use it sparingly even though currently no side effects are known. That was in the 1980s. At that time, it was common to receive an incorrect gender prognosis.

Nowadays ultrasound machines are much more powerful, and a misdiagnosis of the gender is much less common. However, with the uncontrolled exposure from ultrasound, we have no idea what we are doing to our unborn children. We give them even higher exposure starting in the first trimester with vaginal ultrasounds when the baby’s organs have not fully developed yet.

Using Ultrasound Doesn’t Improve the Outcome

Diagnosing placenta previa is of no use until the woman is in labor and the outcome (a C-Section) is the same, with or without the ultrasound. Using ultrasound to diagnose babies that grow poorly actually increases the rate of C-Sections. Babies with serious birth defects might have to undergo a C-Section more often than not, which doesn’t necessarily help them. These same babies also usually are born sooner because of their ultrasound diagnosis.

To sum up, there seem to be no actual benefits to ultrasounds, because the diagnosis can miss defects quite often or diagnose problems when there aren’t any. Babies can be diagnosed much more accurately after birth if there is a problem. Since most babies are healthy, it seems illogical to have every mother submit to an ultrasound without a cause.

And if it was just that simple (that there is no benefit), ultrasound procedures would still be around, because we currently also believe that they do no harm. I think the more likely story is that we do not know exactly how much harm they cause, because ultrasound machines and technicians differ widely. Usually, there are also a variety of other factors involved during a pregnancy.

Don’t Risk an Ultrasound

But why use ultrasound when we don’t have to? Back then,people also thought cigarettes didn’t cause any bodily harm. Decades later, we are much better informed. One thing is for sure: there aren’t any medical devices, pills, or procedures that don’t have any side effects. Therefore, ultrasound is sure to interfere with your body somehow, so why risk it?

Let’s put the mystery and fun back in the pregnancy by announcing the gender of your baby on the day he or she is born. Let’s face it, finding out the sex of the baby is probably the only reason most parents care about having an ultrasound. Weight measurements and gestational age can be estimated accurately with different methods. Finally, diagnosing an unborn baby is not helpful, because you can’t prevent or treat illnesses in utero very well.