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Avoid Fetal "Keepsake" Images and Doppler Heartbeat Monitors

Charles M. Carlsen

Published April 25, 2024
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Mothers experience special sensations and create a unique bond when they see their unborn babies growing in their wombs through an ultrasound.
And they are justified.
After all, everyone, including the fathers of these babies, agrees that the experience cannot be traded for anything in the world.
Under normal circumstances, mothers see their unborn babies during the prenatal visit ultrasounds prescribed by their gynecologists.
Today, however, some expectant mothers undergo ultrasound imaging for non-medical reasons, including creating “keepsake” images and videos. Some also use Doppler heartbeat monitors sold over the counter to hear their baby’s heartbeat regularly.
Is this practice safe for mother and baby?
Experts think it is not. We tell you why in the rest of the article.

What are Keepsake Ultrasound Images/Videos

Keepsake ultrasound images and videos are non-medical sonograms that pregnant mothers and their families take to create memories of preliminary encounters with their unborn children.
Previously, keepsake ultrasound images and videos came from programmed prenatal visits. Today, however, many create them aside from these standard visits, at home, or sometimes in non-medical contexts dubbed “baby video studios.”
The growing interest in keepsake ultrasound images and videos has led to a related non-standard practice: the unregulated over-the-counter sale of ultrasound devices.
Health control agencies such as the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM) consistently remind expectant mothers and their families that ultrasound machines are prescription devices.
Besides, these devices should only be handled by trained professionals who know how to carry out the procedure, interpret the images, and write a signed comprehensive report.(1)
Professional sonographers also know the recommended maximum scanning times for cases such as those of pregnant mothers.
It seems, instead, that some expectant mothers allow hours of non-medical ultrasound imaging to create keepsake videos of their unborn babies.
Whichever way you view them, these imaging procedures are unsafe. They disregard standard medical procedures and should, therefore, be avoided.

Why You Should Avoid Keepsake Ultrasound Images

OB/GYN doctors use ultrasound images and short videos of pregnant mothers for three medical functions:
  • To monitor the development of the fetus inside the womb.
  • To notice any growth anomalies.
  • To identify the sex of the baby by about the 4thmonth of pregnancy at the request of the mother.
Going by past studies, ultrasound imaging during pregnancy is generally considered a safe procedure. It is also the most commonly used imaging method during pregnancy.(2)
However, its safe use does not make it a procedure anyone should perform regularly on pregnant mothers without professional practice and supervision.
Why?
For the following reasons:
  1. First, current research is inconclusive about the 100% safety of ultrasounds. In fact, some experts suggest ultrasound energy can cause mild heating and bubbling on fetal tissues, creating undesired biological effects. Worse still, the long-term effects of these bioeffects are not yet known.,1
  2. Second, uncontrolled, non-medical ultrasound imaging performed by non-professionals can overlook growth anomalies or other issues with the pregnancy. These would otherwise be noticed and addressed in professional medical ultrasound imaging.
  3. Third, some inconclusive past studies propose that exposure to ultrasound waves can cause birth abnormalities such as low birth weight, dyslexia, delayed speech, and left-handedness. 1
    By prudence, the inconclusive nature of these studies does not eliminate the possibility that the effects could be real. This only means mothers should be cautious.
But keepsake ultrasound images and videos are not the only imaging procedures to be wary of. Of equal concern is the fetal heartbeat listening performed with handheld Doppler heartbeat monitors.

What Are Doppler Ultrasound Fetal Heartbeat Monitors?

Fetal heartbeat monitors, scientifically Dopler Fetal Heart Rate Monitors are handheld ultrasound devices that physicians use to detect and record the heartbeat of fetuses during prenatal care visits.(4)
When used in medical contexts, professional care providers ensure proper handling of this equipment, promoting the safety of both the mother and her unborn baby.
Regrettably, these devices are sometimes sold over the counter to mothers and family members who use them to listen to the heartbeat of the fetus.
As a precaution, mothers and their families should be aware that heartbeat monitors are prescription medical devices. As such, they are not recommended for use in non-medical contexts, especially by untrained users

Why You Should Avoid Doppler Fetal Heartbeat Monitors

While they are also part of the current fervor among mothers and families to create keepsakes of unborn babies, heartbeat monitors use Doppler waves and have higher soundwave output than standard ultrasounds.
As such, they pose a higher risk of damage to fetal tissue and should, thus, not be used for fetal assessment outside medical practice during prenatal care.(5)

Final Considerations

Having a new member of the family on the way is cause for great excitement. For both mothers and their families, creating a bond with the fetus through ultrasound imaging is a thrilling way of living the moment
While fetal ultrasound imaging is safe during standard prenatal visits, it can be unsafe and could cause health risks when done unprofessionally for non-medical reasons.
Mothers should prioritize their unborn babies’ well-being before the adrenaline rush of watching them through ultrasound imaging or listening to their heartbeat through Doppler ultrasound imaging.
On their part, medics can find a way of overcoming any medicolegal concerns around giving ultrasound images to patients and consider issuing ultrasound images to pregnant mothers during standard prenatal ultrasounds. This could help curb the nonmedical and unhealthy use of these devices.(1)

REFERENCES

1. American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine. Prudent Use and Safety of Diagnostic Ultrasound in Pregnancy.
2. Torloni, M.R., Vedmedovska, N., Merialdi, M., Betrán, A.P., Allen, T., González, R. and Platt, L.D. (2009), Safety of ultrasonography in pregnancy: WHO systematic review of the literature and meta-analysis. Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol, 33: 599-608.
3. FDA. Ultrasound Imaging.
4. Alnuaimi SA, Jimaa S, Khandoker AH. Fetal Cardiac Doppler Signal Processing Techniques: Challenges and Future Research Directions. Front Bioeng Biotechnol. 2017 Dec 22;5:82. doi: 10.3389/fbioe.2017.00082. PMID: 29312932; PMCID: PMC5743703.
5. Dynin, M., Borhart, J. (2019). What Are the Risks of Doppler Ultrasound in Pregnancy?. In: Graham, A., Carlberg, D.J. (eds) Gastrointestinal Emergencies. Springer, Cham.
Article by
Charles M. Carlsen
Hello! I'm Charles, As co-founder of Drsono, I contribute to the DRSONO blog, providing valuable insights and up-to-date information on ultrasound technology and diagnostic imaging.

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