Prenatal Ultrasounds: A Risky Proposition

by Sarah Healthy Pregnancy, Baby & ChildComments: 82


People are usually surprised when I tell them that I have never had an ultrasound despite having 3 children.    Ultrasounds are a standard medical test that most pregnant women undergo at least once during pregnancy if not 2 times or more.   Even birthing centers that specialize in low risk pregnancies such as where I received my prenatal care, recommend at least a single ultrasound.

It is never a good idea to submit to any medical test without first understanding exactly what you are getting yourself into.    Just because nearly every single pregnant woman gets an ultrasound or that most medical practicioners say that they are safe doesn’t mean that you should have one or that they really are safe.

Like many things in life, “safe” is certainly a matter of interpretation!

Make sure you have all the facts in hand before you judge whether or not the standard use of prenatal ultrasound is, in fact, truly safe for the precious life you are carrying inside you!

The experience that first got me very suspicious of ultrasound occurred when I was pregnant with my first child.   I remember that the baby jumped and seemed extremely disturbed every time I had a prenatal visit and the midwife used a doppler to check the heartbeat.

Why is my baby so upset by this doppler, I thought?    Intuitively, it seemed that something was just not right about the overly casual use of this device.

Why didn’t the midwife just use a fetascope instead, I wondered?

I went home after one of those prenatal visits determined to find out the truth.   I started researching and was shocked to find out that dopplers are a form of ultrasound!   I also discovered that ultrasounds in general are not the innocuous test that prenatal caregivers would lead you to believe.

Ultrasounds Have Never Been Proven Safe

The American Medical Association warns against unnecessary exposure to ultrasound.    A number of studies have indicated probable danger with this routine prenatal test.   One of the most concerning for me was a study reported in the journal Epidemiology in 2001 that showed that the chance of subtle brain damage increases dramatically in male babies whose mothers get prenatal ultrasounds.

Doctors have long known that left handedness in a child that is not genetically determined can be an indicator of brain damage.   When the rate of left handedness in children rises above 9% for right handed parents and 35% for left handed parents, scientists know that some form of negative impact on neural development has occurred.

In this study, the rate of left handedness for boys increased by 30% above historical genetic rates when a mother was exposed to prenatal ultrasound.   The incidence of left handedness was especially pronounced for mothers who had received more than one prenatal scan.

Left handedness has been increasing in recent decades and this puzzling rise beyond normal and historical genetic rates could very well be related to the common use of prenatal ultrasound.   The fetus’ brain undergoes critical brain development even very late in pregnancy (preterm babies are 5 times more likely to be left handed).    Moreoever, the brain of a male fetus develops at a slower rate than that of a female leaving boys at particular risk for ultrasonic injury.

The Ultrasound/Speech Delay Link

Another study that gave me pause and eventually persuaded me to opt out of all forms of ultrasound – even use of the doppler, was a study in 1993 and reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.   This study examined 72 children ages 2-8 who were suffering from speech delay of unknown cause.     These speech delay children were twice as likely as a control group to have been exposed to ultrasound in the womb.

Delayed speech is a likely indicator of sub-optimal conditions for development during gestation and ultrasound exposure seems to be linked to these less than ideal conditions for the fetus.

How Would Ultrasound Delay Speech?

Ultrasound as a potential reason for the increase in pediatric speech problems in recent years has a very likely cause.   This cause would be the incredible loudness that is produced in the womb as the ultrasound waves bounce around the uterus.

How loud, you may ask?

How about louder than your power mower, a motorcycle 25 feet away from you or a jet flyover at only 1000 feet?   How about LOUDER than the last rock concert you attended where your ears were ringing for a day or two afterward?

Yes, THAT loud!

Can you imagine the intense fright and the spike in stress hormones the baby experiences from an ultrasound not to mention the likelihood of damage to the little developing ears from 100-120 decibel ultrasound waves?

Oh, and by the way, hearing loss begins with exposure to sound at only 90-95 decibels, much LOWER than the sound the baby would hear from a routine ultrasound or a doppler heartbeat check.

Beware Continuous Electronic Fetal Monitoring During Labor

A favorite way for a hospital to monitor how baby is handling the stress of Mom’s labor is by strapping an electronic fetal monitor to her belly.    Be aware that this device is ultrasound and when it is strapped to your body, your poor child is not only enduring the stress of the birth process itself but also dealing with 100-120 decibel continuous, blaring sound at the same time!

I have no doubt that someday a study will finally be done that shows that babies that are subjected to the barbaric insult of electronic fetal monitoring during birth have more speech delay and brain damage induced left handedness than any control groups.

Just say no to electronic fetal monitoring and if your hospital or OB tries to talk you into the so called “benefits” of this practice, then find another OB!   Better yet, have your baby with a midwife at home or in a birthing center where such devices are never allowed through the front door.

More Reasons to Skip the Ultrasound

One of the best articles I’ve read on the dangers of ultrasound was written by Dr. Sarah Buckley MD in 2009.    In this article, Dr. Buckley gives a thorough rundown of the potential biological risks to the fetus from prenatal ultrasound as well as the studies that give pause for even considering such a procedure during pregnancy.

This article by Dr. Buckley is loaded with information.   If you are questioning the safety of ultrasound, I highly recommend that you dive in and read it thoroughly.   This blog only discusses the reasons why I personally chose to opt out of prenatal scans and use of the doppler.   There is much more to be told with regard to this story and more serious problems associated with ultrasounds such as a potential link with autism.

What Will Be Your Choice?

As mentioned above, after considering the biological dangers to my unborn children, I opted out of all prenatal ultrasound scans.   I also stopped allowing the use of a doppler during prenatal visits and asked the midwife to use a fetascope instead.    There is a drawback to using only the fetascope – you can’t hear the baby’s heartbeat until Mom is about 22 weeks gestation.

The inconvenience of waiting to hear the heartbeat so much later in the pregnancy seemed an easy trade-off for the peace of mind!

Note:  I did allow the very brief use of  a doppler during labor as use of a fetascope during the natural birth process does not work well when Mom is moving around a lot or is in and out of a laboring tub.

Even when I was 38 weeks pregnant with my third child and the midwife really wanted to do an ultrasound  because it appeared my baby had stopped growing, I refused.    I knew intuitively that the baby was just fine despite my advanced maternal age.

Guess what?   I was right, the baby was indeed fine and was simply 2 inches shorter in length than my previous pregnancies which accounted for my much smaller belly measurements during the third trimester.    To this day, I have never regretted not getting any ultrasounds and am very grateful that I trusted my instincts early to question what was happening with the doppler exams.   I believe skipping the ultrasounds is a big reason why my children all were articulating complete sentences very clearly at a very early age.   Of course, nutrient dense diet played a huge role too!!    But, what good is diet if you undo it with damaging medical tests?

What were your reasons for or against getting prenatal ultrasound scans?

Update:  Medical critic and researcher Jim West has recently published a book detailing 50 in utero human studies from China that prove irrefutably the high risk of prenatal ultrasound even at low frequencies.  This article contains more information on this research that Mothers must be made aware of in prenatal examination rooms.

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

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