• Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Categories
    Categories Displays a list of categories from this blog.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Archives
    Archives Contains a list of blog posts that were created previously.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Keepsake Imaging or Keeping Baby Safe?

Posted by on in Early Childhood
  • Font size: Larger Smaller
  • Hits: 4175

Research pointing to risks associated, some specific to Autism, with early ultrasound scans. Yet another study, this one published this month by the University of Washington in Seattle. We’ve heard about this before… back in 2007 and again in 2014. It was brushed off as inconclusive and nothing for concern. But, apparently, not for a handful of researchers who thought it important enough to spend another 2 years with over 2,600 women.

As I drive to campus every day, I pass "Peek-a-Boo 4D Ultrasound" (fictitious name) in the outlot of a large mall. It looks adorable, with pink and blue graphics and clever advertising. Today, after reading this latest study, I wanted to learn more. The popularity of these ultrasound boutiques is driven by two things- 1. Wanting an early bonding experience with the baby and 2. Getting keepsake images to place in the baby album.

In a conversation I had with my child development class later in the day, I learned that nine of the eleven who were moms had received more than six ultrasound scans and more than eight Dopplers during their pregnancies. Some of these were done earlier than 8 weeks. Less than half were scanned for medical issues, but rather for viewing the fetus and listening for a fetal heartbeat.

My informal survey drove me to get more information on the subject, in light of this new study. I learned that the energy process of ultrasound is often used to accelerate bone healing, because it stimulates cell division and that some body cells are more sensitive to this than others… brain cells are among them.

In the first trimester, the neurons begin their trek up into their intended positions in the brain. This migration is a surprisingly awesome and well-choreographed feat. When ultrasound comes into the picture, it’s like a clumsy oaf stumbling through their pathways. The acoustic energy of ultrasound converts to heat energy, which can intensify by 75% on the fetal skull in as little as 30 seconds of exposure. The heat can stimulate premature cell division and send the neurons off their migratory paths. Instead of finding their way to the upper cortical layers of the brain, many fall out of line and end up in lower layers or in the white matter. A result can be issues with higher cognitive function, like facial recognition and joint attention, both of which are often a challenge for Autistic children.

This most recent study again did not find that ultrasound caused Autism. It did, however, clearly indicate that it may likely be a trigger for the disorder if the baby has certain genetic variations that make him susceptible. And, they found it could contribute to Autism severity. One of the researchers, Sara Webb, a mother of two, said given what she knows now, she would in no way have had an ultrasound scan in the first trimester, unless there was a definite medical necessity.

Beyond these implications, there are other disturbing facts to consider. Today’s ultrasound machines use sound waves with 8 times the intensity used before 1991. Furthermore, it is estimated that as many as 96% of providers are either untrained or do not understand the safety parameters of the equipment. Because these machines are getting smaller, cheaper, and more portable, they are available without regulation to anyone on the Internet. Several researchers stressed the need to regulate ultrasound the same as X-rays.

This brings me back to "Peek-a-Boo." On the website, I learned it was owned and operated by a mom of two, who was not a trained technician. A typical session lasts 30 minutes, but clients are promised a “favorable image,” which may take longer. Or, mom may come back for additional visits free of charge. Hey! What about the 30-second window mentioned by the researchers?

Isn’t this the question that every pregnant mother needs to ask… If there is no medical necessity for ultrasound exposure, shouldn’t the risks be considered before using this technology?

baby feet

For me, the answer would be simple. Any procedure that has the potential to cause abnormal, premature brain cell division and causes neurons to drift from their intended migration path is not worth a keepsake image or video that can be taken with my phone in the delivery room. If it means I won’t know what color to paint the baby’s room until she arrives, so be it. I’d rather she has the best chance at being all she can be, than me having any of those other things before she’s born.


Mourad, P., Autism Research, September 1, 2016

Last modified on
Rate this blog entry:

Debra Pierce is professor of Early Childhood Education at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. Ivy Tech is the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college systems, serving nearly 200,000 students annually.

Her professional background has always involved children, over the past 40 years, having been a primary grades teacher in the Chicago Public School system, a teacher of 3 and 4 year-olds in a NAEYC accredited preschool for 15 years, and a certified Parent Educator for the National Parents as Teachers Program.

Debra is a certified Professional Development Specialist for the Council for Professional Recognition. She has taught CDA courses to high school career/tech dual credit juniors and seniors in preparation for earning their CDA credentials. She also conducts CDA train-the-trainer events across the country and develops and teaches online CDA courses for several states, is a frequent presenter at national and state early childhood conferences, and is a Master Trainer for the states of Minnesota and Arizona. She was also awarded the NISOD Teaching Excellence Award by the University of Texas.

Debra is active in her community, supporting children's literacy and is on the board of directors of First Book in Indianapolis. Debra is a contributing author for Hamilton County Family Magazine and Indy's Child in Indianapolis.
She loves spending time with her two grandsons, Indy, who is 7 and Radley, 3.

Debra has spent the last 16 years dedicated to the success of those pursuing the CDA credential and is the author of The CDA Prep Guide: The Complete Review Manual for the Child Development Associate Credential, now in its third edition (Redleaf Press), the only publication of its kind. She hosts a website providing help and support to CDA candidates and those who train them at http://www.easycda.com
The comments and views expressed are not in collaboration or affiliation with The Council for Professional Recognition or Ivy Tech Community College.
Follow me on Twitter at /easycda

  • No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment

Leave your comment

Guest Thursday, 21 March 2019