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  • Writer's pictureKaleem Joy, Licensed Midwife

Ultrasounds; Are they really needed?

Ultrasound of baby at 8 weeks

Will this ultrasound or test improve the outcome for myself or my baby?

Ultrasounds may not really be needed in early pregnancy. Now that you're pregnant there are decisions about tests, ultrasounds and care providers for you to consider. Let's take a look at what is usually recommended in the OB or CNM hospital standard of care.

You will be scheduled for your first visit which will be an early ultrasound around 8 weeks ( 6-12 weeks) before you will actually be seen for prenatal care. Why do they do this? Glad you asked!!

An early ultrasound is used for the following reasons:

  1. Date the pregnancy: there are great ways by using your history to do this.

  2. Verify a pregnancy, heartbeat: Waiting until after 12 weeks is easier on the baby and baby's heart beat can be heard then.

  3. Care provider can bill your insurance for the ultrasound only if they have not done any prenatal visits before.

  4. Discover the reason for a known problem ie: ectopic pregnancy, bleeding, IVF verification, and not for curiosity.

Ok now about the possible affects on the baby. A baby under 10 weeks is busy making all their organs, nervous system and brain, circulatory system and the heart, growing their limbs and really becoming who they are going to be in life. Exposing a baby who is developing so rapidly and in such detail, that the ultrasonic waves may just interrupt some of this and cause baby to have some issues, is worth questioning. Research shows it does send sound waves, heat and it is unknown conclusively, if this affects the baby.

Here are 7 reasons to question an early ultrasound.

  1. Ultrasounds are not fool proof. There may be something they think they see that does not actually exist. This can cause worry, and upset unnecessarily.

  2. Some care providers may state it is "mandatory", which means you are expected to follow their rules perhaps even into your birth that may not be what your desires are. ( Of course safety issues are a different topic) You have the rite to make informed decisions and not comply with routine procedures just because they are routine.

  3. Interesting to note that currently, as of this writing pregnancy ultrasounds are done early at around 8 weeks, 20 weeks for anatomy scan and 36 weeks to make sure baby is head down and everything looks good to go forward with birth plans. This last one is one that often can bring up worry that creates interventions such as inductions and surgery that possibly was avoidable.

  4. In a research Benefits and Risks of Ultrasound in Pregnancy, by Jacques Abramowicz in 2013 it states "...Others are considered clinically useful, although objective evidence may be less strong. As is the case with almost any medical procedure, however, its performance carries some risks: misdiagnosis on the one hand and possible undesired effects on the other. The general belief exists that diagnostic ultrasound (DUS) does not pose any risk to the pregnant patient nor to her fetus. Nonetheless, ultrasound is a form of energy and, as such, demonstrates effects in biological tissues it traverses (bioeffects). The physical mechanisms responsible for these effects are thermal or non-thermal (mechanical)..." The bottom line is there could be risk.

  5. Benefit verse risk when there is no reason to do it, does not validate routine ultrasounds.

  6. Lack of good palpation skills due to overuse of ultrasounds.

So let's bring this on in for a landing. You have many informed decisions to make in pregnancy, birth, and as a new parent. Question routines and if they are interrupting the normal natural process that you and your baby may be doing just fine. Look at concerns that arise as a time to use technology to help you have the information to make decisions.

This is your pregnancy, your baby and your birth. Create a relationship with your care provider that is team based and discussion based with respect for your decisions.

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