Ultrasound precautions

I saw this interchange on Facebook today with some of my favourite teachers in the birth field.  Carla Hartley is the owner of “Ancient Art Midwifery Institute” and L. Janel Martin produced the film “The Other Side of the Glass” about the experience of fathers at birth.  Here’s what they had to say (along with others) about ultrasound, 3D ultrasound and Doppler heart monitors:

Carla Hartley There is evidence that the exposure of pregnant mice and nonhuman primates to ultrasound waves may affect the behavior of their exposed offspring. Additionally, studies have shown that the frequent exposure of the human fetus to ultrasound waves is associated with a decrease in newborn body weight, an increase in the frequency of left-handedness, and delayed speech.

L. Janel Martin

At the birth conference here in Columbia, MO in 2005 a high-risk OB speaking to the mostly natural birth supporters got frustrated with the barrage of comments and questions about safety of ultrasound. Finally, he just said, “Well, if I thought it was unsafe I would not have sonogrammed my own daughter 17 times.” There was a collective gasp and then… silence. No one said anything more … what’s to say? It illustrates something very important to remember … that I learned/observed in my ex’s indoctrination in OB residency… and that is that they really do believe it … so much so that they do it themselves or to their family.

Carla Hartley

Frightening….that is why I work so hard to try to remind midwives not to be co-opted by technology or go the way of the OBs….what happened to FIRST DO


Kristina Kruzan

I have seen women get ultrasounds (myself included) and every single time without FAIL the baby moves away from it and the parents or tech note that the baby ‘doesn’t like it’ as if it’s adorable. I don’t know what to say; I don’t know the answer to situations like mine where a woman is high risk, on medications that could mean risk for the babe- etc. How to safely check on babe in that situation? Help me understand this and know what the options are.

Carla Hartley

Well, it depends on what you need to or want to do with the info and how much of a risk you are willing to expose the baby to for that info….I have always believed that the risk of ultrasound is 100%….some damage….some irritation to the baby…….have you tried standing near an oncoming subway train? so if I were to ever be in favor of an ultrasound it would have to be because I felt the info was absolutely necessary to the well being of the baby…..not the curiosity of anyone….not even the mother…..we all want and expect too much….too many guarantees….here is the thing….a baby can be perfectly healthy according to an ultrasound one day and then NOT the next day….I have said this to hundreds of women over the past 30 something years: one day’s assurance is not another day’s promise…..

I want women to read EVERYTHING about ultrasounds and dopplers…..and if they find compelling data that suggests even 1% risk for their baby….they say no….we will wait and see….not going to ADD to the possible compromise the baby might be in by shooting wound waves at the baby….I mean really can any of us honestly think that there is MORE a of a chance that ultrasound does NO harm than that it has the potential for GREAT harm…..I don’t think women intend to put their babies at risk….but they are going to follow your suggestions……be brave….stand up for the babies….speak up for the babies….just in case…..we once thought x-rays were safe, too….

thanks for asking……


Erin Rothe Kannon

In my case I opted for only 3 scans through my entire twin pregnancy though it could easily have been 10 – 15 scans! I went back and forth over each decision for each of those scans and in my case, the benefits outweighed the risks. A friend of mine is 8 weeks pregnant with twins and has already had FIVE scans! Why? to see if Baby B (not developing well) will do OK or not. Ugh. She’s losing Baby B. No wonder so many twins are low birth weight!

Debby Sapp

Some doctors gave thalidomide or x-rays to their family members, too, because they thought they were safe. Just thinking doesn’t make it so.

Lynn Reed

I REALLY don’t like it when they say they gave or did it to a family member! We have a lot of doctors here in Augusta who give their wives cesarean sections…so does that make it right? Oy.

I almost am at the point of no return with doctors and refuse anything they “think” is good in their opinion!

L. Janel Martin

I hear ya, Lynn … then Creator gives me the opportunity to see the miracle  they can do with Baby Megan … AND still the family sees the typical, unnecessary stuff being done … and they can’t stop it. She was born at home … midwife didn’t make it in time. Third homeborn baby. I was at the previous birth .. got there four minutes before the midwife who came in, gloved up, and caught the baby. So, of course, people — friends and family– started trying to blame homebirth for Baby Megan’s heart condition. As with many women, people in her environment are almost happy to prove homebirth wrong. NO, she didn’t have medical “prenatal care” and didn’t have a sonogram that MIGHT have picked up the anomaly, but she would have done nothing differently. She minimized her contact with medical caregivers and relies upon midwives, as many women are learning to do to have true prenatal and health care, rather than medical care. She is very health conscious and had very good prenatal self care. Another rant of mine: It almost hurts physically when I hear about programs and government pushing more “prenatal” visits in the medical system. In three decades (my four pregnancies) prenatal visits with the doctor were worthless to me. I can take my own blood pressure any day, I can weigh myself (we were chastised for gaining over 20#). I AM the one who will eat correctly and is able to learn to deal with my stress … all of this is PRENATAL CARE … it is WHAT a WOMAN DOES and HOW she LIVES. Can we PLEEEEEASE give medical care visits a more accurate name!?!? And make a distinction? “Lacks access to prenatal care” makes me want to scream. Baby Megan’s mother is glad she didn’t know about the serious heart condition (abortion is not an option for her) and she didn’t add that worry and fret to her baby’s prenatal imprinting/formation. Very few outside of my field consider that — the impact of every moment of mother’s life to the development of the baby and of putting mother through unnecessary worry. The true impact of medical care in the prenatal period is totally ignored. The DNA of baby is just a blueprint. How the mother is in and perceives HER environment is the building tools, and baby will live with that forever. We have to start thinking, as a society, about the full impact of everything on the developing human being and to see the huge denial going on in the medical field — that they can do whatever they want anytime for any reason because it doesn’t impact the baby.

L. Janel Martin

Carla, well said. So, it’s illogical to have baby with higher risks (high risk pregnancy is the language that helps us do things without regard. I am on a mission to change the language to reflect a human being is involved. It’s a baby, not a pregnancy. Phrases like, mother gives birth not gets delivered.) ..so, it’s illogical to then sonogram that high risk baby thus putting it at higher risk? And, what can we say and do to convince women of this when most of the people who are sonogrammed seem to be unaffected? What is the impact??

Only my last/4th baby was sonogrammed once because she was highly likely down’s syndrome and I was refusing to do an amino, and the arguments were “so that you can make your decision.” I’d made my decision. Agreed to sonogram FOR THEM … they thought she was not as far along as we thought making the blood test unreliable. I KNOW when she was conceived and just let them change her “due date” to later weeks. It seems absurd to me to continue to repeatedly sonogram truly high risk babies making them more at risk. But Carla, WHAT is the risk? We don’t see the damage do we? Even when it is right before our eyes every day? As a society we don’t make the connections … the shifts in the disorders, dysfunctions, behavior issues .. to what we did to the human being prenatally and what we do to babies — the abuses done to babies in the first seconds, minute, and hour of life.

Two things come to me: the reaction, inner reaction of guilt or shame or denial, for women who have chosen sonograms … for whatever reason. We women know deep within us that we made this baby, and anything less than perfect becomes fodder for maternal guilt. And, second, how resilient we are as humans … that we actually survive and overcome and evolve because of it. A baby kitten whose mother doesn’t lick his umbilicus and him repeatedly, he will become a psycho cat …if his mother dies before he is weaned he will likely be a clingy, annoying cat who has weird behaviors like trying too hard to attach, nursing behaviors as an adult, or be weird  in many other ways. They just get tolerated, abused, or put down, and have short lives. Humans have to FUNCTION in society and live long lives .. a horrid set of systems have been established and are now entrenched as businesses to deal with the impact to humans of disrupting birth. Psychology, psychiatry, every possible program to help children in multiple areas of life, and prisons are full of them. What are the consequences of excessive sonogramming, drugs, interventions etc?  Low academic achievement in the US?  High criminal behavior?  ADHD? Autism?  Behavioral issues that are now drugged?  Who knows,  BECAUSE the powers-that-be who FUND research, who benefit from the continued use of them, will not consider that what they do to a prenate and newborn matters. It is unbelievable to  me. HOW IS THIS? How are women so brainwashed that they do not know this, do not, and actually fear trusting their own body? The one that conceived that baby. As a society we continue down the path of denial that what is done during the primal period is foundational.

A dude watching some of my clips and arguing about birth wrote “Once again you’re right and millions and millions of others are wrong. Spoken like a true fascist. According to your paranoid theories we should all be crazy since all of us have been brainwashed and mutilated the second we enter this world. Thank God it’s not true and 95% of us who are born in hospitals turn out to be just fine. Trust me this will be my last “rant” because I’m getting dumber by the minute.”

I responded, “I am not the only one saying it … uhm, take a look at the world around ya, dude. It’s a little crazy … and yes, no one looks at the violation of the baby in the first moments of life. yes, we are .. “just fine” aren’t we? Are you fine?” and “Why on earth would you be so resistant and angry about the presentation of the idea to use medical technology respectfully and only when needed? .. to see mother-child reconnection as vital? My premise, should you wish to try to understand, (from watching family at homebirth vs. family at hospital), is merely to treat the newborn baby with utmost regard, gentle touch, protecting baby’s experience that imprints the brain.”

Sorry, so long and so much …. so much to say. So much to do. LOVE YOUR WORK.

Carla Hartley

we need a documentary on this topic!!! thanks for your respected opinion on this….I always look forward to seeing what you have added.

L. Janel Martin

a documentary? Hmm…..


Here’s a link to an article with more info on ultrasound dangers from Green Health Watch:


10 thoughts on “Ultrasound precautions

  1. I hope my SIL who does u.s. for a living reviews this information. I discussed animal study results a few years back and she became angry and defensive and repeatedly stated that there was no evidence that ultrasound harms the fetus or mother. NK. She used to check on her own pregnancies, so can’t even count the times her babies were u.s.’d. Anecdotally, her kids are in their teens and seem to be OK. It’s reasonable to believe that risk factors differ for individuals, as in some kids may be OK, and others are predisposed to gas pockets and other disturbances.

  2. hey gloria! as you know i love your blog. and thought that you might be interested in this little project i am doing around outlaw midwives. the link to it is here. http://guerrillamamamedicine.wordpress.com/2009/11/25/call-for-submissions-outlaw-midwives-zine/
    basically a call to submissions for an outlaw midwives zine. i would love you to contribute and.or. let other women you know who would be interested in submitting about the project. peace and love.

  3. thank you for your great website and support. I had in the 20 week scan a huge trauma to me and my baby, when the doctors saw an “anomaly” in the heart, and I was under the ultrasound scan for 7 hours during one day. It was a great learning to distrust all results that come from those studies. The doctor then found that there was an “irreversible” damage to the heart, which actually was outlived naturally. My baby is due in less than a month, and my doctor suggested one more scan, but I will not do it. I will birth at home anyways.
    I will probably soon start my own blog about my experiences, it seems not to be much in this remote part of the world (Estonia – Eastern Europe), and it needs to be heard.
    blessings to all mothers,
    Sukhdev Lilia

  4. When I was having my babies in the 80’s, my OB refused to do ultrasounds saying that the damage to the infant was a risk he was not willing to take.

    I recently talked with a mother that had 4 3D U/S @ a whopping $165 each. Each time she said the baby was “moving like crazy.”

    This is not safe!

  5. I always feel like risk/benefit ratio should be up to the parents. I give parents an article from Marsden Wagner and Sarah Buckley on ultrasound and let them choose. After all, if the medical model is saying a 1% risk of uterine rupture with VBACs is dangerous, are we to say that the same 1% risk (even though it’s usually half that) is fine but only when it applies to something we agree with?

    I see babies move during US. does this mean they don’t move at all before the US? Or do babies ONLY get active when US is used? I think we put a lot of guilt on women in general.

    When we talk about small risks, we have to be careful. There are small risks all around us. However, each of us decides what element of risk we feel comfortable with. I’m fleixible re: use of doppler and fetoscope, but if things are going on in labor, I’m more likely to ask permission to use the doppler.

    What do I know, though?

  6. In 43 years of medical practice (Imaging), I have never know or even heard of a baby being subjected to 7 hours of US. One just uses the images stored in US machine or transfers them for further study to disc. Only in high risk (twins,ect; diabetes or prior case history of pregnancy problems) did I ask for a repeat study with fewer views.

    • I couldn’t see what you’re referring to, Brian. Of course you’ve seen women on electronic fetal monitoring for more than 7 hours. That is exposure to ultrasound. That’s what dopplers are–ultrasound devices.

  7. The medical community’s approach to pregnancy is that you’re NOT pregnant until the ultrasound proves that you are. It’s this culture of ‘I’ll believe it only when I see it’. The ultrasound is the only tool in the OB’s toolbox in early pregnancy, so everything in the world looks like a nail. An ultrasound that reveals a problem in later pregnancy that requires an emergency induction or c-section may be one thing, but in early pregnancy, there’s NOTHING anyone can do based on the results of an ultrasound (short of ordering a D&C), so what exactly is the point of doing them??? I’ll never understand the medical community’s obsession with ultrasounds in early pregnancy. They are at best a waste of time and money, and at worst they are causing harm to fetuses.

  8. I have Kell alloimmunization. From what I’ve been told and from the research I’ve done, the only way to make sure that my daughter has not developed anemia is through ultrasounds. I hate it, but so far I’ve found no evidence telling me that I can just ignore the fact that my blood is full (1:128) of antibodies against my husbands and possibly my baby’s blood. Do you have any information about Kell alloimunization and wether this is one of those cases in which the US truly is the least of two evils? Thank you

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