Pregnancy Ultrasounds: How Many You Get vs. How Many You Need

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profile picture of Emily Windram
March 2, 2017
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Frequent ultrasounds may seem like a good idea, especially since you probably can’t get enough of peeking at baby, but medical experts are warning against getting more than one or two scans.

In a joint statement backed by major medical societies like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM), experts concluded that women with low-risk, complication-free pregnancies should use ultrasounds “only when clinically indicated, for the shortest amount of time.” Despite that recommendation, the average number of ultrasounds has increased since the practice was introduced in the 1960s; the Wall Street Journal estimates pregnant women get about five ultrasounds each.

“Inappropriate and contrary to responsible medical practice” is how both ACOG and AIUM describe non-medical ultrasounds — yet doctors can (and do) administer them anyway. Ultrasound protocol isn’t always explicitly explained to moms-to-be, and combining that with the ease of access to “entertainment” scans offered at commercial sites (like shopping malls), many women end up getting an excessive number of ultrasounds because they can.

Another reason the average number of ultrasounds has risen? Women may believe that checking in on baby regularly will keep them in the loop. But ACOG points out that it could have the opposite effect. Non-medical ultrasounds may not totally represent baby’s development (meaning you feel reassured when you shouldn’t), or they may reveal a minor issue that you interpret on your own (meaning you feel stressed when you shouldn’t).

There’s no evidence that fetal ultrasounds can have longterm effects on mom or baby, but it’s important to remember that it’s still too soon to totally understand their potential, says the FDA. That’s why it’s best to play it safe, and only take home those cute prints of your growing baby once or twice over those long nine months. The key, ultrasound scientist Phillip J. Bendick tells the Wall Street Journal, is simply not to overdo it.

“The public needs to be made aware that if you’re pregnant, you don’t drink alcohol, you don’t smoke and you don’t need to have an ultrasound at every doctor’s visit,” Bendick says.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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