Ultrasound has effects on the body that are not yet fully understood. A sound wave is capable of making a change that is thermal, vibrational or mechanical in nature.1
It causes heat to be generated in body tissues and the tiny bubbles inside the tissue may vibrate in reaction to the sound waves.2
Questions have been raised about the repeated effects of ultrasound on the baby’s hearing; despite the fact that the sound waves are bounced off the baby for only a short time, is the baby’s hearing vulnerable at certain stages of its development?
Research has shown that the high frequency sound waves used in ultrasound can cause damage to hearing in an adult.3 This has raised many questions regarding what effect do these sound waves have on the development of the ear? Will babies suffer delayed effects on their hearing later?
As a practitioner I have often wondered if society’s desire for multiple ultrasound scans may be one contributing factor to the rise in the number of children with chronic ear infections and drainage problems.
– Studies suggest ultrasound may cause an increased incidence of miscarriage, neurological deficits, developmental delays including delayed speech, and dyslexia.Changes to DNA and cell growth and lower
Apgar scores (how your baby’s health is measured at birth) have also been suggested.4
– A case control study was undertaken on children with delayed speech, discovering that they were twice as likely to have been exposed to prenatal ultrasound waves than the control subjects (children without delayed speech). The authors concluded that, “physicians would be wise to caution patients about such vulnerability”.5
– The International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA) has maintained that “Ultrasound is most likely to affect development (behavioural and neurological), blood cells, the immune system and a child’s genetic makeup”.6
– Robert Bases, chief of Radiology at the New York’s Albert Einstein College, also speaks of the “bewildering array of ultrasound bio-effects described in over 700 publications since 1950”.7
– In the words of the British Chief Medical Officer of Health: “All ultrasound exposure should be justified and limited to the minimal necessary for the diagnostic purpose”.8
– A randomised trial on ultrasound was conducted at 48 different sites in six states of America, during which 15,000 women who were considered low-risk for problems in birth were studied in conjunction with the use of ultrasound. The researchers found that there was “no significant decrease in foetal deaths as a result of routine ultrasound use” and concluded that ultrasound should be used sparingly and for specific medical reasons.9
(Lynne McTaggart’s book What Doctor’s Don’t Tell You is a comprehensive source on the side-effects of ultrasound.)
This brief summary of some of the available research encourages us to ask searching questions about the possible long-term effects of ultrasound, particularly with its use in the first twelve weeks of life when major organs of the body are being formed.
For us, the only reason we would have a scan (which we did during Quin’s pregnancy at 20 weeks and now again with this baby) was to ensure that the heart was developing well. To offer peace of mind that our baby was healthy and that a home-birth was a safe environment for our newborn.
So before you rush to buy your blank video and schedule your appointments for your 3D foetal ultrasound, you may like to pause and clarify your intentions.
I am not suggesting that you should not have a scan if you inherently desire to see your baby. I am suggesting though, that you sit with your rationale. This is a great opportunity to “tune- in” and see if you are being swept up with someone else’s agenda, a well- meaning relatives excitement or is it a parental choice that you have examined and acted upon?.
It is extremely common for ultrasounds to be used solely to determine the sex of a baby and to date a pregnancy with little thought regarding the possible side-effects. If the results of your scan would not alter the course of your pregnancy, you may wish to consider whether you really need to have an ultrasound.
Alternately, consider having just ONE scan, either at 15 or 16 weeks so you can also have an amniocentesis
(if wishing to do so) or later in the pregnancy at 18–20 weeks gestation.
If you decide that you would like to have a scan, the advice we have been given is that it is best to:
– Schedule an appointment at a “specialist clinic” that utilizes advanced ultrasound equipment
– Book with a specialist – i.e. a gynaecologist specializing in ultrasound, rather than just an ultrasonographer.
This helps to avoid:
– over exposure through repeated scans in the unpredictable possibility that a specialist is needed
– misdiagnosis and unnecessarily distress.
Along the journey of parenting there is much for all of us to consider.
With love and respect,
Dr Jennifer Barham-Floreani
. . . . .
2.Kitzinger S. The New Pregnancy and Childbirth Edition. Auckland:Transworld Publishers;1997
3.Kitzinger S. The New Pregnancy and Childbirth Edition. Auckland:Transworld Publishers;1997
4.McTaggarts L.What Doctor’s Don’t Tell You.London;Thorson’s 1996.
5.Campbell JD. Elfor RW.et al. Ultrsound and Delayed Speech. Dept of Surgery;U niv of Calgary. Alta. Cited in:Maginness G Dr.(2001). C4K Chiropractic for Kids. Paediatrics Research. (CD.ROM). Available: firstname.lastname@example.org(2001).
6.The International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA) cited in McTaggarts L.What Doctor’s Don’t Tell You.London;Thorson’s 1996.
7.Bases R.Chief of Radiology. Cited in: Naish F.Roberts J. The Natural Way to a Better Pregnancy. Australia:Random House;2000
8.CMO’s Update 4; A Communication to all Doctor’s. Cited in: Kitzinger S. The New Pregnancy and Childbirth Edition. Auckland:Transworld Publishers;1997
9.McTaggarts L.What Doctor’s Don’t Tell You.London;Thorson’s 1996.