1. McClintock, Rocky BSN, RN, PHN

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In my opinion, three-dimensional (3D) fetal imaging used for non-diagnostic portraits is safe when performed by responsible sonographers. The safety of ultrasound, a noninvasive procedure using high-frequency sound waves to generate images from within the body, has been studied and monitored for decades. The technology has been widely accepted and has become standard of care in obstetrics and other medical specialties. To date, no adverse effect has been demonstrated when prenatal ultrasound is administered professionally (National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements [NCRPM], 2002).


Most doctors or practitioners spend several minutes during a diagnostic exam showing parents the babies' movements in the womb, purely for the parents' enjoyment (Campbell, 2002). Medical professionals have maintained that pre-natal ultrasound scans, in addition to their efficacy in diagnosing fetal abnormalities, enhance maternal-fetal bonding, promoting better overall health for both mother and child (Campbell).


Recently, there has been a dramatic increase in the demand for elective, "keepsake," or "entertainment" ultrasound scans; this has engendered opposition from various organizations, particularly the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The primary objection to this growing, consumer-driven market is that unqualified personnel are conducting ultrasound sessions frivolously (Johnson, 2003). This may be the case, but consumers can be taught how to choose a reputable outlet: (1) the site should employ Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (RDMS), accredited individuals with years of clinical ultrasound experience; (2) the patient's maximum net exposure time to ultrasound should not exceed 15 minutes per half-hour session; (3) no more than three nondiagnostic scans should be done during a woman's pregnancy. A skilled sonographer can elicit quality images, or determine the impossibility of doing so, in a matter of minutes (Kurjak, 2002).


A company using properly maintained equipment, employing certified sonographers, and informing its clients' doctors as to the nature of the procedure poses little, if any, undue danger to consumers.


Ultrasound sessions are often emotionally moving, leaving parents with fetal portraits and high-quality videos to share with family and friends. Unborn babies are seen sleeping, yawning, smiling, and sucking their thumbs in amazing detail. One mother who marveled at the level of detail produced by modern machines said: "The pictures were so clear [that] members of our family already think that our baby looks like my husband." Family members can be present during elective scans, providing support for expectant mothers. This has proved particularly helpful for siblings-to-be, who may be confused by their mothers' physiological changes, or unsure how to cope with the fact that attention has been diverted from them. "My two daughters sat with popcorn on the couch watching [the ultrasound video] like a movie-it was fantastic," reported one client. Another expectant mother suggested, "I think our future son or daughter will[horizontal ellipsis]appreciate seeing what she or he looked like in utero."


Parents emerge from the sessions expressing joy and excitement. Many pregnant wives of active servicemen are having scans performed, and sending the fetal portraits to their husbands overseas. Detailed images of one's unborn child are inspirational, and help to preserve a powerful bond between future parents despite their being separated by thousands of miles.


In short, "responsible entertainment ultrasound" is not a contradiction in terms, as some organizations would have parents believe. Alleged risks are no greater than those associated with obstetrical diagnostic scans. Parents' desires to see their unborn children is a natural one, and randomized studies show that ultrasound examinations enhance maternal-fetal bonding, particularly with 3D scanning (Campbell, 2002). Potential dangers arise not from the procedure itself, but from who is performing it (Johnson, 2003). A company using properly maintained equipment, employing certified sonographers, and informing their clients' doctors as to the nature of the procedure poses little, if any, undue danger to consumers.




Campbell, S. (2002). 4D, or not 4D: That is the question. Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynecology,19, 1-2. [Context Link]


Johnson, K. (2003). Keepsake 3-D ultrasounds: Medicine or marketing? Fledgling industry sparks debate. Family Practice News, 33 (19), 57. [Context Link]


Kurjak, A. (2002). 3D Ultrasound and Perinatal Medicine. Journal of Perinatal Medicine, 30, 5-8. [Context Link]


National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRPM). (2002). Summary of the report: Exposure Criteria for Medical Diagnostic Ultrasound; II. Criteria Based on All Known Mechanisms [Context Link]