Most women today receive routine ultrasound examinations during their pregnancies. While this procedure may be helpful in detecting the possibility of abnormalities in babies of pregnant women over the age of 40, they may be equally harmful to babies who are not at risk for any abnormalities.
The possibility of a baby having any type of abnormality is low. Often, these problems may be diagnosed without the use of ultrasound. There is also an incidence of ultrasounds giving a false positive of an abnormality. Even if an abnormality is detected on a scan, there is nothing that can be done for the baby. A doctor cannot, after all, remove the baby, treat it, and then return it to the uterus.
Doctors will argue that ultrasound is useful in determining abnormalities for mothers who would wish to terminate and imperfect pregnancy. Ultrasounds are not, in fact, useful in determining abnormalities. Approximately 95% of babies determined by ultrasound to be at high risk of Down Syndrome based on a nuchal translucency scan are found not to have the disease at all while some babies are born with Down Syndrome that was never detected.
I remember once reading a book on pregnancy which claimed that getting an ultrasound to detect possible abnormalities was important because ultrasounds were correct in diagnosing an abnormality 40% of the time. I remember sitting there, shocked, unable to believe what I had read. Had the author understood what she had written? If those studies were true, that would mean that ultrasound scans are wrong 60% of the time. That means that ultrasounds are wrong more often than they are correct. You literally have a better chance of determining an abnormality in your child by flipping a coin. At least then you would have a 50% chance of being correct.
Studies have shown that ultrasound does not decrease the instance of fetal death. Ultrasound also does not confirm a problem with the baby and some abnormalities are impossible to detect with ultrasound. Ultrasounds which indicate a false positive result in unnecessary grief and stress for the mothers and their families. Many argue that because nothing can be done for a baby with an abnormality, mothers are needlessly subjected to negative feelings, stress, detachment, and grief for their entire pregnancies.
While some mothers want to know if there is an abnormality so that they can decide to terminate the pregnancy, babies are sometimes aborted and are then found to have had no abnormalities at all. These mothers, whether a real abnormality was found or not, will have to live with their decision to have the pregnancy terminated for the rest of their lives. Other women would never make the decision for a termination and so a possible finding of an abnormality would only cause stress and grief during her pregnancy.
Doctors claim that ultrasound is useful in detecting intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR) or abnormally slow development of the baby. Studies show, however, that using ultrasound is less effective at measuring IUGR than by manually measuring the uterus. Other studies show that ultrasound results in a false positive of IUGR more than fifty percent of the time. There is even evidence to suggest that IUGR may be caused by ultrasound itself as babies with more frequent scans are more likely to develop this disease later in pregnancy.
Ultrasound is also ineffective in diagnosing placenta previa in early pregnancy. Low-lying placentas almost always migrate away from the cervix as the uterus expands. Women who receive a diagnosis of placenta previa early in pregnancy will be subjected to great anxiety throughout their pregnancies and may feel that they must have frequent scans in order to check and see if the placenta is moving away from the cervix. These frequent scans may place their babies at a higher risk of damage from the ultrasound itself. Detection of complete placenta previa in labor has not been found to be any less safe than detecting it by ultrasound in late pregnancy.
Ultrasound is also notoriously unreliable in measuring the size of the fetus. I can say from the personal experience of many friends who had ultrasound that they are frequently off, sometimes by several pounds. One friend that I had in particular was told that it was okay for her baby to be born because he was over five pounds. After many conflicting scans and a scheduled caesarian delivery, it was discovered that he weighed only just over two pounds. Ultrasound has been described as being no more reliable in determining the size of the fetus than a coin toss and have resulted in premature babies born to mothers who were thought to be “overdue.”
Ultrasound uses both sound waves and low-level radiation. These waves cause cavitation in air pockets within living tissue to heat up and vibrate. Doppler uses continuous ultrasound rather than a pulse scan and results in babies who are exposed to higher levels of ultrasound radiation.
No official testing on humans to determine the safety of ultrasound has ever been performed. It is a widely believed myth, even among doctors, that ultrasound has been proven to be 100% safe. One essay published in a British medical journal states that “there have been no randomized controlled trials of adequate size to assess whether there are adverse effects on growth and development of children exposed in utero to ultrasound.” (“Diagnostic Ultrasound in Pregnancy,” (Lancet 28 Jul. 1984) p. 202) Though this article was written in 1984, it remains true today.
While many may find the lack of research on the safety of ultrasound to be disturbing, it is even more surprising to note that not one country in the world has developed any safety standards for the machines, nor are there any training or certification courses available for the use of ultrasound.
Doctors and other personnel come with absolutely no certification or qualified training in the use of these machines, some of which can vary in output by up to 5,000 times.
The World Health Organization states that “There is as yet no comprehensive, multidisciplinary assessment of ultrasound use during pregnancy, including: clinical effectiveness, psychosocial effects, ethical considerations, legal implications, cost benefit, and safety.”
Several studies have shown possible negative effects of ultrasound. According to Sarah J. Buckley, MD, in her article “Ultrasound Scans – Cause for Concern,”
“Studies on humans exposed to ultrasound have shown that possible adverse effects include premature ovulation, preterm labour or miscarriage, low birth weight, poorer condition at birth, perinatal death, dyslexia, delayed speech development, and less right-handedness.”
Studies also show that other possible side-effects of ultrasound may include neurological damage, intrauterine growth retardation, false positives which may result in abortion of a healthy fetus, cell abnormalities, increased rates of cell death, and lung damage.
In the words of British radiologist HD Meire, “The casual observer might be forgiven for wondering why the medical profession is now involved in the wholesale examination of pregnant patients with machines emanating vastly different powers of energy which is not proven to be harmless to obtain information which is not proven to be of any clinical value by operators who are not certified as competent to perform the operations.”