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Know the Risks of Keepsake Ultrasounds

Baby's first ultrasound is a joyous moment for expecting parents excited to get a sneak peek of their bundle of joy. They may even go the extra mile to secure a photobook-worthy 3-D or 4-D image at a local keepsake ultrasound business.

While these non-medical photo sessions are physically safe, Lauren Theilen, MD, MS, assistant professor of maternal-fetal medicine at University of Utah Health, warns expecting mothers to be aware of some risks, particularly misinformation.

“It’s very exciting to see an image of your baby for the very first time,” Theilen says. “However, it’s important for expecting mothers to understand the differences between a keepsake ultrasound session and a medical ultrasound.”

 If Ultrasounds Are Safe, Why Worry?

One common concern about elective ultrasounds is the unnecessary exposure to heat that can, in some cases, produce very small bubbles in sensitive tissues. However, Theilen notes that these risks are highly minimal. And ultrasounds, even performed outside of a medical setting, are generally considered safe.

Ultrasounds have been used by providers for decades, and we consider them to be generally very safe for mothers and their babies,” Theilen says. “They’re safer than X-rays because they use sound waves instead of radiation.”

Keepsake ultrasounds do, however, pose health risks if expecting mothers skip their medical ultrasounds.

“The people performing keepsake ultrasounds are typically focused on getting a good photo, not on a comprehensive assessment of your health and that of your baby,” Theilen says. “Anything that doesn’t look right isn’t going to be reviewed or interpreted by a qualified doctor.”

Why Should I Get a Medical Ultrasound?

No matter what glowing news you receive from your keepsake ultrasound technician, you should always keep your medical ultrasound appointments.

“Keepsake ultrasounds aren’t diagnostic, and doctors aren’t present to provide answers about any unexpected findings,” Theilen says. “You may be given a false sense of security, or you may get some startling news that you weren’t prepared to hear.”

For healthy pregnancies, ultrasounds are typically recommended at least twice. The first is performed between seven and 14 weeks, and the second is performed around 18 to 20 weeks.

Medical ultrasounds record critical information about the health of both mother and baby. Standard ultrasounds are used for many reasons, which include:

  • Monitoring the baby's growth and age
  • Examining the baby's heartbeat
  • Detecting abnormalities of the womb or ovaries
  • Checking for multiple fetuses
  • Examining the baby's position
  • Assessing the baby’s anatomy

Additional ultrasounds are recommended for moms who have some pre-existing health conditions, such as pregnancies with multiples, older age (40 and up), previous miscarriages, and spotting or bleeding.

Focus on What Matters Most

Ultrasound photos are nice mementos, but your health—and the health of your little one—matters the most. Remember to keep all your prenatal checkups in the books to ensure a healthy pregnancy and delivery.

"This is a fun, special time for a lot of people, and we want to support them as much as possible by taking and printing the best quality photos we can get during ultrasound visits," Theilen says. "It's understandable when parents want to get a better image somewhere else, but they must never confuse keepsake ultrasounds with medical ultrasounds.”