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Are Ultrasounds Safe? The Doctor Weighs In (page 2)

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Updated on May 17, 2012

Ultrasound Do’s and Don’ts

So should mothers-to-be be wary of ultrasounds? Not if they follow these guidelines:

  • In general, doctors should limit the number of ultrasounds in early pregnancy, due to the high number of cells and organs that are forming at that time. A single ultrasound in order to estimate the due date and test the heart rate is considered normal. In addition, ultrasounds based on maternal history (e.g. past miscarriages) may be necessary.
  • Avoid very long ultrasounds, such as those that take more than an hour, unless there is a specific medical reason why one would be necessary.
  • Visit a trained sonographer in an accredited lab whenever possible. Unlike those without much sonography training, they will know how to get the necessary pictures without holding the transmitter in place for too long, especially over the fetal heart. The machines will also be set at a safe output power and will be maintained well.
  • Allow vaginal probes when necessary. Contrary to popular belief, vaginal probes aren't any more dangerous than abdominal probes, and may in fact be less risky. “Because they’re closer, they can get a better picture without using a higher level of energy,” Dr. Rumack explains.
  • Don’t fear four-dimensional ultrasounds. Dr. Rumack reveals that these ultrasounds require a more complex computer, but don't send higher levels of energy into the fetus itself.
  • Ask for Doppler machines to be used much more sparingly than ultrasound machines. Dopplers visually show the heartbeat and can detect heart rate. Although there’s no proof that Dopplers are any more dangerous than ultrasounds, we do know that they do use much more energy. Obviously, Doppler machines can and should be used when the medical benefits outweigh the risks.
  • Don't dish out money for a fetal video or photograph. The technicians who will be performing the ultrasound aren't trained and are likely more interested in getting “the perfect shot” than in following standard protocol. “These people will frequently keep the ultrasound focused on the baby long enough to get lots of perfect pictures,” explains Dr. Rumack. “It is also exposing the patient to a potentially much higher level of energy without medical reason. Although we believe that ultrasounds are safe, there are plenty of things that we do that we feel are relatively safe, but that should not be done without a medical reason.”

In short, don't fret over medically necessary ultrasounds—but pass on shooting a fetal video or photo of your little one just for kicks. A trip to the sonographer is exciting, and if you play by the rules listed above, you can ensure both you and your baby stay safe.

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