Parents Turn to Ultrasound for First Baby Photos

FDA Says Picture Service is Misuse of Medical Technology

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Houser Baby

An ultrasound image of Maureen Phillips-Houser's baby. The image was taken in 3-D mode. Images snapped in 4-D mode allow parents to see their baby's movements. Courtesy Maureen Phillips-Houser/Baby Insight hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy Maureen Phillips-Houser/Baby Insight

Ultrasounds have long been used to check on the health of growing babies in the womb. But now, expectant parents are turning to the technology for a very different purpose: early baby photos. As NPR's Debbie Elliott reports, commercial businesses are using advanced ultrasound technology to offer parents startlingly clear, 4-D images of their unborn children.

One such firm is Potomac, Maryland-based Baby Insight, which opened in April. The company offers parents-to-be 3-D still images of their baby, as well as a live-action, 4-D video of life in the womb. Baby Insight owner Lori Evans says parents are most amazed by how clear their babies' facial features and gestures appear.

Parents can choose from several picture packages, similar to the way in which they'll later select school photos. Many use the images for holiday cards, or in announcement cards sent to friends and family.

Although such services are popular, the Food and Drug Administration says they represent a misuse of ultrasound technology, which is approved for diagnostic medical purposes. Dr. Marsden Wagner, a perinatal epidemiologist and former director of Maternal and Child Health at the World Health Organization, notes that there have been no long-term studies of children exposed to ultrasound. He says several small studies indicate a possible link between ultrasound exposure and neurological problems.

Baby Insight co-owner Matt Evans says his company would stop immediately if research ever shows that ultrasounds are dangerous.

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