New ultrasounds give 3D look at unborn children

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SALT LAKE CITY - A new wave of ultrasound lets parents see their unborn children in three dimensions, but the lasting effects of those 3D ultrasounds haven't been studied and officials warn about potential dangers.

Two-dimensional ultrasound pictures have been in use since the early 1970s, generating a black and white image resembling an x-ray.

The new 3D and 4D images are much newer and some parents are willing to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars at boutique or mall ultrasound shops to see a more realistic impression of the unborn child without a prescription or doctor's order.

"Being able to see with your own eyes and have that experience its definitely really cool for a lot of moms," said Holly Hobson, an ultrasound technician at Fetal Fotos. "The 3D and 4D look the same. It shows the flesh on the baby but the 3D is only still pics."

But are the new scans safe? Scientists haven't been able to study the long-term effects yet.

"It is hard to do controlled studies. You can't do prolonged exposure on one group and not another and see if there is damage done," said Toni Limalfa, a certified nurse midwife at University of Utah Health Care.

The Society of Medical Diagnostic Sonography, the Society of Maternal Fetal Medicine and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology do not endorse non-medical 3D and 4D scans.

Limalfa says not having exact data on the long-term effects is likely one of the reasons why the new ultrasounds aren't doctor-endorsed. They also say ultrasounds aren't a photo opportunity, but a way to check to make sure the child is healthy.

Limalfa says that, despite the warnings, many medical professionals say that as long as  the exposure in 3D and 4D ultrasounds isn't prolonged, it should be okay.