Parents warned against 'boutique' scanning of unborn babies
Potential risk: Souvenir scans use ultrasound energy for longer in order to get a clear shot of the baby's head Parents are being warned to consider the possible risks when collecting keepsake baby scans of their child in the womb. Experts claim there are concerns about the growing practice of 'boutique' scanning of unborn babies. But parents should not hesitate to have scans to check the baby's health, concludes the Health Protection Agency. Such scans are justifiable and safe, says its independent advisory group which assessed the evidence for any possible ill-effects. The report comes as mothers-to-be are routinely offered 2D ultrasound pictures, or even moving images of the foetus on a CD-ROM or DVD. In advanced 3D scans, ultrasound echoes are digitally enhanced so they create a life-like picture of the unborn baby while 4D shows the foetus moving in real time. The latest report found there was 'no suggestion' that diagnostic ultrasound affects mortality of babies during pregnancy or soon after birth. There was also no evidence that childhood cancer risk is affected by such scanning or that the practice is hazardous. But further research is needed to determine whether there are any long-term adverse effects. However, there has been concern about the possible dangers posed by 'non-essential' scanning carried out for souvenir scans where the ultrasound energy lasts longer in order to get a clear shot of the baby's head. Some studies have linked scans to higher rates of left-handedness in boys. The advisory group says the evidence surrounding commercial ultrasound use is too patchy to make a judgment. Professor Anthony Swerdlow, chairman of the advisory group, said 'Ultrasound has been widely used in medical practice for 50 years, and there is no established evidence of specific hazards from diagnostic exposures. 'However, in the light of the widespread use of ultrasound in medical practice, its increasing commercial use for ‘souvenir’ foetal imaging, and the unconfirmed indications of possible neurological effects on the foetus, there is a need for further research on whether there are any long term adverse effects of diagnostic ultrasound.' The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said parents-to-be should not hesitate to continue taking advantage of ultrasound scans for diagnostic purposes. However they should consider the uncertainties when deciding whether to have ultrasound scans that do not have a defined diagnostic benefit and provide only keepsake images or 'real time' scans. Justin McCracken, chief executive officer of the HPA, said 'Overall, there is a track record of safety with diagnostic use of ultrasound, so people should continue using ultrasound for medical purposes. 'However, there are some uncertainties that need to be clarified through additional research.' A previous report in the British Medical Journal said several medical bodies have 'reservations' about the 'casual exposure' of unborn babies to the technology. They include the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, and the French Academy of Medicine. The FDA says 'Although there is no evidence that these physical effects can harm the foetus, public health experts, clinicians and industry agree that casual exposure to ultrasound, especially during pregnancy, should be avoided.' There are also concerns about how staff at commercial clinics deal with the discovery of a foetal abnormality, although some doctors offer keepsake images after they have performed ultrasound for medical reasons.