The Safety Aspect of Ultrasound
What is Ultrasound?
Let’s start with an explanation of what ultrasound is. Then you can understand if ultrasound is safe for your baby.
An ultrasound (also known as a sonogram) obtains images from inside the human body using high frequency sound waves. The reflected sound wave echoes are picked up and converted by a computer into an image that is displayed on a computer screen.
Ultrasound scanning is a non-invasive (no needles or injections) examination which is usually painless and widely available. It provides real-time imaging, and can visualise structure, movement and live function in the body’s organs and blood vessels. For standard diagnostic ultrasound there are no known harmful effects on humans and is therefore one of the safest diagnostic medical examinations available today.
A common misconception with ultrasound scanning occurs when people associate it with other types of diagnostic imaging such as X-rays, MRI or CT scans.
However ultrasound scanning does not involve X-rays and so does not have any of the risks associated with ionising radiation. In fact it has been shown to be one of the safest of medical techniques, and is used routinely to scan babies, both before and after birth, children and adults. It has been used to provide valuable images and other diagnostic information for four decades, with no evidence of any harm.
It is worth emphasising the fact though that ultrasound is a form of energy, which even at low levels can produce physical effects in tissue. This can be better explained by understanding that just as ordinary sounds that are too loud can damage our hearing, in the same way very high levels of ultrasound can produce undesirable effects, for example by warming the tissue through which the ultrasound beam passes.
However, there is no evidence that these physical effects can harm a fetus.
As a precaution, the sonographer will take every care to ensure that the level and duration of the ultrasound examination are no more than are necessary to obtain the diagnostic image or information.
Starlight Ultrasound follows British Medical Ultrasound Society (BMUS) clinical guidelines in this regard.
What happens during an ultrasound examination?
The sonographer applies an odourless, colourless gel to the skin above the body structure(s) to be studied. This gel helps conduct sound waves from the ultrasound transducer down to the tissues that are the focus of the study. The sonographer applies the transducer to the skin and short pulses of ultrasound waves are emitted and received.
For some scans, you may be instructed not to eat or drink for as many as six hours before your appointment. For other exams, you may be asked to drink water so that your bladder is full when the scan begins.
As the transducer is moved around, an image of the various organs under study appears on a monitor. At Starlight Ultrasound there is also a large screen TV monitor on the wall to enhance the viewing experience for the customer and in the case of pregnancy scans so friends and family can also see images in real time.
What if we want to find out the gender of the baby?
Ultrasonic fetal scanning is generally considered safe if properly used to evaluate the size, location, number and age of fetuses, presence of some types of birth defects, fetal movement, breathing and heartbeat and is the current standard in prenatal care.
The primary purpose of the fetal ultrasound examination is to assess the health of the baby, so it is important that the medically necessary portion of the scan be performed prior to disclosing the sex of the baby.
In keeping with recommended clinical guidelines, the examination will not be prolonged or repeated solely to determine fetal sex.
What about 3D & 4D ultrasound?
Three- and four-dimensional (3D & 4D) ultrasound to obtain keepsake fetal portraits is an elective, non-medically necessary procedure.
Starlight Ultrasound Limited believes the risks to an expectant mother and a fetus for a brief elective ultrasound to be minimal as all ultrasound scans are performed by a qualified and competent sonographer.
We are happy to provide souvenir scans but we always perform well-being checks in the first instance.
Laura Gardner is an experienced Registered Midwife with the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC) and a Clinical Specialist Sonographer with a post-graduate qualification meaning she is more qualified than many sonographers and midwife-sonographers. For this reason the health and well-being of customers (and their fetus/baby when pregnant) is Laura’s priority. It also means Starlight Ultrasound Limited is a truly midwife-led clinic and is able to offer early pregnancy and reassurance scans throughout pregnancy. We therefore believe ultrasound is safe for your baby.