Do You Have to Have an Ultrasound?

Taking Control and Taking Advice

ultrasound-image_700x700_Getty-169813314.jpg Matt Carr/Getty Images

Marci's newly pregnant. She hasn't even gone to her first prenatal visit. She's a nurse and calls herself a by-the-books kind of girl. She sounds like she's already on the path to having a healthy pregnancy—eating right, exercising and all that. Like every newly pregnant woman on the planet, she's worried about miscarriage. Oh, honey, if only we could wave a magic wand and skip over the first trimester with all the worry, nausea and fatigue and get to the good trimester—the second one. Wait, if we did that we'd miss all the amazement and wonder of finding out we're pregnant; all the joy of telling people and all the magic of becoming our baby's mother—even when he/she's only a squiggle. Despite the downside of not feeling so great, we really wouldn't want to miss it.

Marci's mom had a bunch of miscarriages before she had Marci. She and Marci's step-dad (an emergency room physician) have strongly advised her Not to have an ultrasound because they think it might cause a miscarriage. Well, Marci, you've stumped me. I've never heard of this connection nor can I find anything in my literature or source of all knowledge—Google—on the subject.

The first thing that comes to mind though is this: Poor Marci. Your family's freaking you out. They've hopped right on the advice train that tags along on every woman's pregnancy and complicates, confuses and stresses an already complicated, confusing and stressful time. I know they mean well. You're their daughter, carrying their grandbaby and they don't want anything to happen to either of you. Your poor mom must have gone through a really hard time with all those miscarriages and she wants to protect you from the pain she went through. Her hearts in the right place but maybe there's room to work on her approach. Maybe she could find a way to not project her miscarriage experiences and fears onto your pregnancy. Maybe not but I'm going to hope she'll find a way. It is important information to pass along to your doctor just in case there's a genetic link but this is your pregnancy, not an extension of hers. Unfortunately, a mother never forgets the loss of a baby—even when they're just tiny. Marci's mom—if you're reading this—I'm sorry for your losses. I know you still hold those babies in your heart.

The next thing I thought of was this: maybe there's a coincidental link between miscarriage and ultrasound. Since the majority of miscarriages happen in the first trimester, around the same time as many women's first ultrasound; maybe it appears to some people that they're connected. You know what I mean? A lot of women have their ultrasound around 8-11 weeks and that's the same time frame as most miscarriages. I wrote about miscarriages and first trimester spotting a while back. Take a peek and see if anything there applies to you, Marci.

Knowing how strong the bond is between hospital's medical-legal departments and the OB department—it's pretty unlikely they'd be doing ultrasounds if there was a clear link to miscarriage. Like I've said before, people sue when we mess up their babies. Beyond the fear of litigation, OBs, midwives and everybody else working in the baby business are in it because they want to help women have healthy babies.

Marci asked how her doctor might react if she declined an ultrasound. I don't know your doctor but how he/she reacts isn't a major concern here. Of course, they're going to want you to follow their best advice and trust them but this is about YOU, not him/her. I'd recommend you have a good long chat with your doctor about your parents' concerns, your mom's medical history and your feelings about the ultrasound. More than likely, your doctor will reassure you that ultrasounds are considered safe. Then you make a decision. If you don't want an ultrasound, you have the right to say no.

Ultrasounds are handy tools that tell us a lot about how your little one's growing. That first trimester one is great for nailing down the due date. If you know for certain when your last menstrual period was and a pretty good idea of when you got pregnant, maybe you don't need an early ultrasound. It's kind of fun, though to see the little heart beat on your little bean-sized baby. Later ultrasounds tell us more about anatomy and growth but aren't as accurate for gestational dating purposes. Virtually every pregnancy includes at least one nowadays but they're not mandatory. Women had healthy babies for thousands of years before we had technology, digital photography or lab work. If you don't want an ultrasound, just don't have one. If your doctor makes a stink about it; switch doctors.

This is Your Pregnancy, Marci. You didn't mention if you have a partner but if you do, talk about what you want together. You did say you're a nurse. Good—you're ahead of the game in terms of understanding health care, medical terminology and all those tests. You'll be in a good position to really sort this thing out. Please, talk to your family and set some boundaries as to how much advice, information, and story-telling you're willing to listen to. I feel for your folks, really I do. They just want the best for you and their grandbaby. What they don't remember, maybe, is just how emotional pregnancy is. They also didn't have as many choices and decisions to make as women today. Good Gawd, there are a lot of tests, screens, scans and rules.

Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to and it may be answered in a future blog post.

This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.