Too Many Ultrasounds During Your Pregnancy?

pregnancy ultrasound

How many ultrasounds are medically necessary during a healthy low-risk pregnancy? And how many are women typically getting these days?  A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reported that many women are getting more ultrasounds than needed from their doctors and that these frequent scans are not justified.

A study by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology from May 2014 states that most low-risk pregnancies called for one or two ultrasounds. Typically they fall around the 12th week and the 20th week. However, most women are getting four or five ultrasounds during their pregnancies.

Are these extra ultrasounds harmful to mom or baby? Not necessarily. But then again, there is no definitive research on the newer equipment that is now used. The old research was conducted on equipment dated back to 1992 or prior. The most important concern was that too many ultrasounds could increase the amount of false alarms in relation to fetal size and result in potentially unnecessary Cesarean sections.

There are many clear benefits to an ultrasound including more accurate estimates of conception dates, helping doctors determine when to induce labor, identifying multiple fetuses, or detecting abnormalities in pregnancy. Many high risk pregnancies need additional scans for the safety of both mother and child. It is also a good bonding technique for parents.

Why are doctors doing these additional scans? Some say because of malpractice suits. Being that this specialty pays one of the highest premiums, doctors are afraid they may miss something. Others say some doctors are collecting extra money from these additional scans. There is also an element of patients requesting additional scans and even outsourcing scans at other locations for a better view of their child.

When I read about the growing number of ultrasounds pregnant women are undergoing, it really struck a chord with me. During my pregnancy with my first child, I had tons of scans. My doctors informed me that my baby was measuring smaller than average, and that I would need to get growth scans every 2-3 weeks to make sure he was growing properly. Each time we went, he did grow at a decent rate, but he was still smaller than normal, so they wanted to continue the scans to be safe and make sure everything was okay. At the time, I never thought that it could be unsafe or that it would create false alarms. I figured I would rather be safe than sorry. At the same time, I believed things were normal with my child. I am not average size and neither is my husband, so why should we expect to have an average sized baby?

When I went into my 38 week appointment with no dilation or contractions, I expected to go to work after my check up. I was then told that since my baby was still measuring small that I should be induced that day. Say what?!?! I was beyond shocked. I never knew that was a possible scenario, and honestly I was skeptical. Still, to this day, I am not sure if that was the best decision. My biggest fear in being induced early was that I was not ready, that my baby was not ready, and I would end up having an unnecessary Cesarean section. I was told that the alternative in waiting it out could be infant death…a VERY slight chance…but all the same…how could I sit and wait for two weeks with THAT on my mind? So I went through with the induction…two inductions actually (since the first one did not progress me nearly enough). Luckily, my pregnancy did not result in a C-section, but it could have, and that’s what weighs on my mind as I go through my current pregnancy.

This pregnancy started very similarly with multiple scans in the beginning due to having another child who was measuring small. Again, having been through this before and ending up with a healthy child, I felt that all the testing and the scans were maybe not necessary. But at the same time, how would I feel if I were wrong? So I did them. Luckily, after a few good growth scans in a row, my doctor’s decided to stop the scans this time around based on my history and good growth. So I haven’t had an ultrasound in awhile, and I am hoping they will let me go on as a normal low-risk pregnancy as long as everything continues on that path. I felt that during my last pregnancy the extra scans may have caused concern where there didn’t need to be and maybe an early induction that didn’t need to happen. This time around I am hopefully that I can go into natural labor and let my body do what it’s supposed to do at the appropriate time.

How many ultrasounds did you have during your pregnancy? Would you question your doctor’s recommendations after learning that so many women have unnecessary scans?