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Ultrasound...At The Spa?

3D and 4D ultrasounds are getting more and more common. But as the technology has been gaining in popularity, it’s also been brewing some controversy. The root of the concern is that these “vanity ultrasounds” are not medically necessary, nor are they performed by a medical professional. Some critics suggest that the pictures could be misread by untrained technicians or uninformed parents. Or even that ultrasounds could be harmful.

But eager parents are jumping at the opportunity to catch a prenatal glimpse of their growing babies, and providers are popping up in response to demand, sometimes in the unlikeliest places.  I’ve even heard of ultrasound kiosks in malls. But a new business in Texas is taking the vanity ultrasound to a new level: it’s put it on the menu with its other luxury services at a pregnancy-centered spa.

The Blooming Pregnancy Spa and Image Center, recently opened in Austin, seems like a pretty cool place. It was founded by a massage therapist who wants to give pregnant women a trustworthy resource for quality prenatal massage. She notes that many massage therapists have limited prenatal training and they compensate for this by withholding pressure for fear of injuring the fetus. But a well-trained therapist knows how to apply pressure safely. I had some of those timid prenatal massages myself and they were underwhelming, to say the least. So I can definitely support the idea of a place where you know you’ll be able to get a real massage- one that will actually help soothe the aches you’ve come in with.

And I guess I can understand the idea behind combining spa services with imaging. But I’m not sure how I feel about it. My OB did ultrasounds at every appointment. I loved those little scraps of blurry 3 x 5 black and white fax paper. But I felt weirdly worried, even guilty about it.

There are those who think that ultrasounds, even the low resolution versions that have been used for twenty plus years at doctors offices, might be causing some troubling medical conditions. I’ve seen articles exploring a possible link between ultrasound and autism, ultrasound and leukemia, ultrasound and hearing damage. While these theories are obviously scary, nothing even close to conclusive has ever been found. The long term impact of ultrasound, if any, is difficult to parse out from other factors and exposures. There’s no solid connection to any harm, but there’s not a whole lot of conclusive understanding, either. And as little as we know about the old school doctors office technology, we know even less about the newer 3 and 4d versions.

When I went down an anxiety path about those ultrasounds I came home with every month, I know there was a part of me that felt bad about how much I loved those little looks into my belly.  The unknown byproducts of the technology felt that much scarier because I was partly in it for the enjoyment of seeing my baby’s face. Taking the whole thing out of the doctors office and into the mall is one step further into the realm of entertainment. But putting it into a spa really links it with pleasure.

Vanity ultrasound providers insist that the technology is safe and that any questions are coming from the medical industry who wants a monopoly on prenatal photography—and the copious profits to be made.

Have you had a 3D ultrasound outside of a doctor’s office? If so, where?

photo:b_azzarelli/flickr

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