This may all sound a little anecdotal since I'm a mom, not a doctor. But, it is something that has crossed my mind more than once throughout my pregnancies and I suspect I'm not the only wondering mama out there. According to my search results, it seems I'm not the only one asking, "Are ultrasounds necessary? Are they safe?" And yet, appointment after appointment, I'm offered the option of an ultrasound and I have many a friend who has had the opportunity to see their baby via ultrasound at each and every appointment. That is any where from 10-15 (or more!) scans during a 40-week gestation!
Frankly, the more and more I read, the more I'm finding that ultrasounds are an unexplored field when it comes to pregnancy. Ultrasounds have only been around for 30 years; a blink of an eye in the medical world. In that time, nothing has come out proving that they're unsafe, but nothing has been done to assure their safety either. Sixty years ago, X-rays were deemed safe during pregnancy until Alice Stewart researched their effects; subsequently, prenatal X-rays were officially discontinued and warned against. In my perspective, when a medical procedure isn't substantiated with facts and real data resulting in a positive outcome, that means we as mothers along with our unborn children are choosing to potentially be guinea pigs in a risky experiment.
For me, parenting is enough of a roller coaster without subjecting myself and my children to experimentation. With only a 30-year window, there are no studies exploring the long-term effects of transabdominal or transvaginal ultrasounds; let alone Doppler, 3-D or 4-D. Add on top the rate of misdiagnosis (which is completely understandable since an ultrasound only shows what is happening at that exact moment) and you're in for a whirlwind of worry.
It's a priceless moment to see their profile, learn their gender and get reassurance that they're bouncing around with a strong beating heart. But are the risks worth it?
Take me, for example. During my 20-week scan with my son, he was positioned in such a way that we couldn't see part of his brain. My chart was marked "unknown" and I was told to come back in another week to make sure that section of his brain wasn't missing. There were no other indicators of a problem, but since the ultrasound wasn't technically completed I was of course worried and encouraged to return for another scan. I declined the follow-up and my son was born with his entire brain and a third thumb—something they didn't see on the ultrasound.
A friend's child was recently diagnosed via ultrasound with a club foot; he was born with perfect feet.
Another mama worried her entire pregnancy that her son had increased potential of Down Syndrome; he too, was born perfect.
Two mamas I know have had the fear of placenta previa planted in their minds due to early ultrasounds; both had their placentas move up throughout pregnancy, a very common occurrence.
Just last week, a relative of mine was preparing to welcome a daughter into the world. Much to her surprise, a little boy was born!
You see why I have this worry about ultrasounds, right? They're new, unregulated and unreliable in many cases. Don't get me wrong, I love and adore seeing my baby on screen. It's a priceless moment to see their profile, learn their gender and get reassurance that they're bouncing around with a strong beating heart. But are the risks worth it?
For me, I'm questioning how ultrasounds will be a part of my pregnancy this time. I have already waved the option of an early ultrasound, but do have tentative plans for a 20-week scan. Due to my home birth plans, it's important to me to gather information about my baby's health so my midwife and I both know whether or not it is safe to proceed outside of a hospital.
When it comes to prenatal testing, I tend to follow the BRAN method of decision-making. What are the BENEFITS? What are the RISKS? What are the ALTERNATIVES? What if I do NOTHING?
I don't mean to overwhelm you one bit. I know 100 percent how hard it is to be tossed worries and questions and fears when you're really just trying to soak up the joy of pregnancy and make plans for your nursery. But when we know better, we do better. And as I progress through my third pregnancy, I am forever thankful for the moms and care providers who have asked questions before me and guided me to find the best plan for my baby and me.