Thursday, April 30, 2009

Autism Links to Ultrasound and Other Obstetrical Procedures

No one wants to believe that there could be complications or problems with using this device that American parents are so in love with!

Simply put, ultrasound changes the way cells grow. Ultrasound has been linked to a number of things, but the one I want to focus on here is autism.

One in every 150 kids has a form of autism in the United States. This rate has grown tremendously over the last decade. Now let's talk about ultrasound for a moment. When I had my first baby, in 1996, nearly 13 years ago, I remember desperately hoping that my insurance would cover it. Back then, they didn't do them unless there was a "medical reason." (I don't remember my "medical reason".) Gradually, the reasons started including things such as accuracy of the estimated due date. Now, everyone's insurance covers ultrasound, usually not just one, but several. I even had a student last year who had a doctor who routinely did ultrasounds every week starting at 36 weeks. Parents are excited about this, not knowing the risks they are taking with their baby's well-being. Rates of increased ultrasound usage correlate with the rate of autism diagnosis. They have both risen dramatically, simultaneously.

I had read about the possible link between ultrasound and autism about 5 or 6 years ago. It made so much sense to me. There has always been warnings linked to ultrasound, but I rarely talk with a pregnant woman who has been made aware of any warnings before having an ultrasound.

For example, a study in 1993 found that babies exposed to ultrasound were twice as likely to develop delayed speech. According to the FDA, "While ultrasound has been around for many years, expectant women and their families need to know that the long-term effects of repeated ultrasound exposures on the fetus are not fully known."

Researchers reported, in 2005, "Obstetric ultrasound should only be done for medical reasons, and exposure should be kept as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA) because of the potential for tissue heating. Temperature increases in utero have been shown to cause damage to the developing central nervous system of the fetus." In 2006, a study warned that exposure to ultrasound can affect fetal brain development.

Because there are no obvious deformities or problems at birth, we assume that all is well and "normal." It is likely several months or even years later, as the parents are going through testing, no one asks -- yet -- "How many ultrasounds did you have in your pregnancy?" I think that day will come though. As a side note -- what did you learn from all those ultrasounds? Probably that everything was just fine. Even if you were checking for something periodically, what would the difference have been in just waiting until the baby was born? Rarely can anything be done in utero. So why have all these ultrasounds to begin with?

Ultrasound, just like ANY drug in labor or pregnancy, has NOT been proven to be safe. Think about that for a minute. Take Tylenol for example. Women are told that it is "safe" to take it, but that is not necessarily true. It just hasn't been proven to be unsafe. Ibuprofen, on the other hand, has been proven to be unsafe. We know ultrasound changes cellular growth, we just aren't sure exactly what this means long-term. Links are starting to be made now, finally, after 30 years of use -- and damage.

Other research shows that populations exposed to ultrasound have a quadrupled perinatal death rate, increased rates of brain damage, nerve cell demlyienation, dyslexia, speech delays, epilepsy, and learning difficulties.

One more interesting note about ultrasound and the development of the baby. Ultrasounds, along with many obstetrical testing practices, has a high false-positive rate, meaning that parents are told something is, or may be, wrong with the baby. This causes the production of stress hormones in the mother which can have long-term effects on the baby's neurological development and behavior.

It is important to know that ultrasound is not just the scan where you see the pictures of the baby. Ultrasound includes the doptone used to hear the baby's heartbeat at your appointments with your doctor or midwife. (You can hear the baby's heartbeat with a stethoscope after about 20 weeks. This takes more skill, and if your provider is younger, they probably have no idea how to find the heartbeat of the baby without the doptone. If this at all concerns you, you should request to hear the heartbeat by stethoscope.) Another form, and perhaps the worst of them all, the Electronic Fetal Monitor, or EFM. This is often strapped to the mom for hours in labor, especially if she has drugs in her system. Once again, I have just given you another reason to not have drugs in labor. You'll still be monitored, but only a fraction of the time will be required, or needed.

I have to end this post with a simple, trust your body. Trust your baby. You will be seeing him or her in a short time. The risk of ultrasound simply is not worth it. If your doctor or midwife is pushing you to have more than one ultrasound (I understand wanting one to check things out), examine the reasons and the possible results. Can anything really be done during the pregnancy? Usually not.

For those of you who are curious, I pulled this information from a magazine called "Pathways to Family Wellness". Other obstetrical procedures linked to autism include: mercury in pregnancy, including the Rhogam shot, flu shot, dental fillings, and fish. Other procedures linked to autism: induction, epidurals, restricted laboring positions, forceps and vacuum extraction, C-sections, and umbilical cord clamping. Of all these things, ultrasound was at the top of the list.


Scott and Hannah said...

First off, I have to say that I recently worked with a client who was given an ultrasound at 26 weeks that showed a serious brain defect in the baby. The diagnosis was grim for the baby. Ultimately, when the baby was born, it was shown that the ultrasound had not been accurate in diagnosing the correct issue with the baby. Although the baby has a brain defect, it isn't what they had originally diagnosed and his outcome for life is a lot brighter. An ultrasound may be able to tell you some information related to the babies health, but what can you really do with unfortunate information besides worry and pray and worry some more?

Next, I recently watched a video about a baby's development in gestation. The "sound" waves sound to a baby what a freight train sounds like when passing us. It is worse when those sounds pass directly next to the baby's ears. That is enough to get my attention.

Anonymous said...

I think this was a great post. Since reading your blog, I plan to have a natural birth with my next baby whenever that may be. I love your stuff!

In regards to autism, however, I completely understand how ultrasound and other aspects potentially cause this and other conditions. But I do think the stats may be a bit skewed because of the over-diagnosis of autism. In my humble opinion, autism along with other disablities including ADD and ADHD are extremely over diagnosed. Sometimes it is merely a behavioral problem, which with proper (or any) discipline can be greatly improved upon.

On another note, I too know a number of people who were frightened with something an ultrasound picked up when in actuality it was nothing at all.

Donna Ryan said...

I hear this as a concern quite often about the large umbrella of the autism spectrum. ADD and ADHD, however, are not part of that arena. I agree with you, Anonymous, that these diagnosis are over used. Recently, I read that 80% of homeschooled children are boys. It was followed up with an interesting comment: "Public schools treat boys like defective girls." I believe this to be true. Sad, but true. I do believe that "boys will be boys" but we want them to act like "good little girls." Interesting that the majority of kids labeled ADD or ADHD are boys.

While some of these issues are "behavioral," a lot of them are not. Autism is not behavioral. There are behavioral indicators that a child is autistic, but the problem itself does not originate with behavior. There are wide ranges of severity. I know autistic children who, if I didn't already know they were autistic, I would never guess unless I spent significant time with them. On the other hand, I know other autistic children that it is very obvious. Varying levels of ultrasound or procedures to blame? Who knows...

Anonymous, I am so glad you have picked up things here and plan a natural birth next baby. Be sure to get into a Bradley class in your area (or my DVD classes if there's no instructor where you live). Glad you enjoy the blog! That makes my day!

Sarah said...

Love it- none so far with this baby! CPM didn't even offer, just used the fetascope-

Anonymous said...

I have a 14-month old son who was born at 30 weeks with heart disease. We thank God everyday for the wonderful physicians at the University of Maryland who diagnosed his heart disease at 20 weeks during a routine ultrasound. They saved his life. We were unaware that you can have in-utero surgery to allow aortic stenotic babies to grow and develop normally prior to this ultrasound. For those who believe not much can be done to correct problems diagnosed during an ultrasound, I beg you to look at my son. Had we opted not to do an ultrasound, we wouldn't have this little boy in our life. Don't neglect your baby...have a routine high-level ultrasound with a reputable hospital.

Donna Ryan said...

Anonymous, isn't technology unbelievable?! Who would have ever thought that a baby could be operated on in utero? I am happy that your baby is alive and well.

Ultrasound can be useful if used properly and cautiously. By writing this post, I simply am advising new parents to be aware that ultrasound, while very rarely saving a life, carries risks that parents are not told about. Your experience with ultrasound is your reality. The vast majority of babies, however, will not need surgery in the womb and are growing perfectly healthy.

I'll repeat what I said in the post: Ultrasound changes the way cells grow. This can mean different things to a developing baby. Parents should use caution. Having multiple ultrasounds, for the majority of women and babies, are a waste of money and time, not to mention the dangers associated with them.

Summer said...

Hi, I'm very big into homebirth and natural child birth. In fact, my mom is a midwife. I was planning on having my baby (born jan 09) at home. However, during the pregnancy it was discovered that I have a negative blood type. I was recommended to have the Rhogam shot by the health department. I declined because of the autism risk. I assumed that I could simply have the shot after the baby was born. But at about 39 weeks a blood test showed that my body had made antibodies. Suddenly, I was in a high risk pregnancy. I had to be induced and have my baby in a hospital surrounded by at least a dozen or more doctors, nurses, and specialist. I was still able to have my baby naturally (despite the pitocin), thank the Lord. However, now I am facing the possibility of all my future pregnancies being very high risk due to the antibodies in my system. Now I'm left wondering, did I make a needless, harmful mistake by not getting the rhogam shot, or did I possibly save my daughter from autism? Again, I totally love home births and wish I could have had one.

Donna Ryan said...

Summer, I wish I could tell you that you made a very good choice, but to be perfectly honest, I think taking the Rho-gam shot would have been wise, especially if you want more children. What is done is done though. Depending on the blood type of your next baby, it may not be an issue. There's just no way to know. What did the doctor tell you about your options?

Donna Ryan said...

Summer, I kept thinking about your comment and question. This is sometimes more of a problem if 3rd stage was handled aggressively -- manual mashing of the uterus, pitocin, and pulling at the cord to release the placenta from the uterine wall. If they let everything happen naturally and "cleanly" you could be ok. I don't want to be a dooms-dayer, you know!

Summer said...

Yes, if I could do it over again, I would probably have gotten the shot at 28 weeks. My midwifes said none of their negative blood type patients got the 28 week shot (they got the shot within 72 hours of the baby being born) and they've never seen a problem. I think what happened to me is very rare. I wonder if my midwives will change their mind about having the shot at 28 weeks because of what happened to me.

If I get pregnant again, I will have to decide if I want to get an amniocentesis to find out if the baby is - or +. If the baby is -, I can have a normal pregnancy. If the baby is +, I will have to have blood tests and ultrasounds often to make sure that baby is okay. If I decide not to get the amniocentesis, we will proceed as if the baby is +.

Summer said...

I think I found a way to avoid amniocentesis! They can determine the fetal RHD genotype from the mom’s blood!

Varyanna said...

I have spent most of my working life in medical research. I manufactured ultrasonic transducers for 12 years. I have used ultrasonic cleaners to clean surgical instruments (and jewelry.) I work with someone who recently told me that she was having bi-weekly ultrasounds for her new pregnancy, but now that she's reached 19 weeks, she will have an ultrasound session that takes half an hour. This last comment is what made me think. I did not know that someone would have such a long ultrasound session. Ultrasound travels through moisture, and specifically, ultrasonic cleaners work by cavitation...they make pits in the surface of what they hit, such that they knock off dirt/tissue/blood by vibration. Perhaps this vibration could knock little weak spots in myelin sheeting of nerves or such, I don't know. Knowing about potential for cavitation, even more so than heat problems or the auditory potential to a fetus,
is something which I am concerned about and its possible implication in autism's unbelievable rise. I intend to further pursue the medical research literature.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic yet another post that loves to scare pregnant mothers into thinking that EVERYTHING they do could potentially harm their baby (but, by the way if you BUY my dvd or attend my classes for a price all your poblems will be solved).
How many people fly in pregnancy? Did you know this could be the equivalent of 10-20 xrays due to cosmic radiation? Not to mention background radiation we are all exposed to. Did you know if you step outside your front door you breathe in so much mercury from traffic? Ultrasound is not ionising unlike this type. Only if it is focused for a long time is it dangerous. Did you know if you dont have an ultrasound your baby may have a problem that may not be apparaent for some time later?
You may as well never go out, and try not to breathe anything in at all really as just remember one thing - your child needs to be protected FROM YOU. Whatever you do you are screwed according to all these marvellous mothers out there you take pleasure in scaring others.

Donna Ryan said...

It is crazy to have such opinions and post them under "anonymous" -- either be proud of who you are and your opinions or be quiet! I really do believe that everyone is entitled to their opinions and that is why I NEVER delete comments off my blog. I won't delete yours either, but I think it's cowardly to not put your name behind your opinion, especially if you are going to say such things about me, my classes, or what I have written.

As for what you wrote: I do NOT believe that if someone takes my class, all their problems will be solved. They do, however, have a much better shot at understanding birth and avoiding unnecessary intervention, medication, and c-sections. My purpose is always to give information, not to scare expecting parents. Give me a break! Did you even read this post?

So, let's just go through pregnancy doing whatever we want -- smoking, drinking, reckless behavior, because it doesn't matter -- we are doing harm no matter what! What a crazy comment. There is plenty of evidence that ultrasound is causing damage. I stand behind my position 100% -- if you don't need an ultrasound, don't get one!

Donna Ryan said...

If I may make one more comment about fear-mongers: My running theme is my blog is TRUST YOUR BODY. The medical establishment has women doing test after test, ultrasound after ultrasound, "just in case" there's something wrong with the baby. What if there's a problem? THAT is fear-based practice. I do not operate that way at all. I think "Anonymous" has it reversed!

bigmummyt said...

Haha Im not sure anon above meant that we should you anything as evrything is harmful but I think they were a bit harsh in their remarks!!

Please could you explain how ultrasound affects cells? My Father is a OBGYN and says they cannot affect cells at diagnostic levels, althougha agrees they should not be overused. In Europe they have an US every month and their autism rates are much lower than here in the US. Personally I think it may have a vaccine link. An explanation about cells would be great though. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I would never say that 'you may as well do anything as evrything is harmful' what a bizzare way way to read my post. I admit I was hasty with the way that I wrote the post and for that I apologise, but I am so tired of the way pregant women are constantly made to feel anxious - by both hospitals and more natiral' advocates, however you are not to blame for this and much of what you say I agree with. Pregnancy is over medicalised and many things are unneccessary, however all I was trying to say was that when it comes to electro magnetic radiation (NOT smoking drinking etc) it is all around us. To not expose yourself to any level would mean -turning off all wireless etc, and telling your neighbours to turn theirs off, not using a cell or cordless phone, not driving as there is ultrasound in cars, definitely not flying as there due to cosmic radiation which is the equivalent of many x rays and not living anywhere with high levels of background radiation. Just because something is in the context of hospital does not mean it is dangerous there and not elsewhere -was all I meant to say.

Anonymous said...

May I also add to the above that the reason the post on the danger of ultraosund upset me was that due to the constant barrage of scare stories women are subjected to, ultrasound can be that one little piece of reassuarnce that you need. To say that even that is harmful just rubs salt in the wound. I understand that you are saying trust your body and you wont need it, but if youve had misscarraiges or lost a baby (when you didnt have an ultraosund), etc it is not so easy to have such a calm mind in the real world. There are people out there abusing and neglecting their bodies while pregnant - having scans to make sure everything is healthy is responsible - sure dont overdo it, but dont make women feel guilty for doing it as the majority you speak to may well have already have had a scan. I may remind you there are also theories out there that say toxins in breastfeeding cause autism, even that 'rain and other precipitation'(!) causes autism - its not right to put this without a context. Sorry to rant on here but it just upsets me that other women may read this and other articles like this on the internet and not comment but go away and worry, when there are so many other factors to consider.

Donna Ryan said...

I apologize for taking so long to comment again on this post. Anonymous, I appreciate that now we are getting to the root of your anger. I can appreciate having a miscarriage (had one myself) and wanting to be sure everything is ok. Ultrasound does not, however, prevent miscarriage. It may provide reassurance, but that is no guarantee either. You are right about all the things that can make us paranoid. Nearly all of these these in our daily lives are completely unavoidable. Ultrasound is NOT unavoidable though.

I'm sure I've said this previously, but it's worth repeating. There are 3 types of ultrasound: the scan that provide a picture of the baby, the doptone that your care provider uses at appointments, and EFM, or Electronic Fetal Monitoring, used in labor, often for many hours. Every minute of continuous ultrasound (doptone and EFM) equals 16 minutes of the scan. So while I am concerned with the scan, it's the continuous monitoring that concerns me the most.

Bigmummyt, there is a video, albeit an old video, produced by CNN many years ago on fetal effects of ultrasound. It shows a couple of different examples of how cells are changed after ultrasound exposure. It can last 10 or more generations. Your father said that ultrasound does not affect cells at "diagnostic levels." At what point does he acknowledge cellular change? There are many frequencies that ultrasound is used. I knew a midwife a few years ago that was always careful to buy the doptone that used the lowest frequency possible because of possible risks. She told me that it takes more skill to use it, which probably steers a lot of doctors or midwives away from it.

Again, the bottom line is this: If there are other ways to hear and monitor your baby, use them! Intermittent monitoring has been shown again and again to be just as reliable -- often MORE reliable -- than EFM. Having your "20 minute strip" is a legal issue, not a medical one.

Michelle said...

Hello, I know this blog post is old but I came across it when I was searching for information on links between autism and ultrasounds. I am currently pregnant and had an ultrasound done at 12 weeks because I was told that's what I should do and didn't think anything of it. Then around 14 weeks I had two more ultrasounds of my gallbladder (and they did look at my baby for a few minutes) done because I was having severe pain in that area. My question is, do you know if the ultrasounds they conducted on my gallbladder would have any affect on the baby? I'm just concerned because they did it for a long period of time.
I'm considering not having any more ultrasounds done, not getting a flu shot, and not having EFM even though I am sure my doctor will be very unhappy.
Any thoughts would be appreciated, thanks!

Kaitlin @ More Like Mary said...

I just came across your blog and am really enjoying it. I'm 15 weeks pregnant and will start my Bradly class later this month. I'll have to get the RhoGam shot due to me and my husband's blood types and feel uneasy about it (before reading this, but especially now). What are your thoughts on this? Is it just a necessary evil? We want to have lots more chidren after this one.

Donna Ryan said...

This post gets a lot of attention, as people are very concerned with ultrasound, for good reason.

As far as the gallbladder ultrasound, I probably wouldn't worry about that too much. Sounds like you had other things going on that could potentially cause problems. Besides, I also feel that worrying about it is pointless when you can't change the past.

As far as the doctor who won't like the intermittent monitoring, it's never too late to change care providers. There are plenty of hospitals/care providers out there who do intermittent monitoring. Seek them out. Your Bradley instructor will know who they are.

Speaking of... It's awfully early to start Bradley classes. I don't like anyone to start earlier that about 22 weeks. You'll still have 3 months of pregnancy left. Can you not find another class that will fit your pregnancy better?

The RhoGam shot... If you plan on having several children, I actually think the RhoGam shot is a good idea. This is about how the 3rd stage of labor, or the delivery of the placenta, is handled. You just wouldn't know if you had complications from not having it until you were trying to get pregnant with the next baby and couldn't hang onto the pregnancy. Good luck!

Tootie said...

Donna Ryan wrote,

"Every minute of continuous ultrasound (doptone and EFM) equals 16 minutes of the scan."

I have been googling for your source and cannot find it. Where did you find that statistic?

Donna Ryan said...

Excellent question, and to be honest, it's something I learned in my Bradley training almost 8 years ago. I'm not sure of the source they used.

massageamom said...

This is a topic that needs more attention. The articles on my web site by Caroline Rodgers, Dr. Marsden Wagner and Beverly Beech give much information to think about. I'm not against ultrasound if medically necessary, but the pervasive use of ultrasound today makes no sense to me. My pregnancy 26 yrs ago compared to what today's preggo's have to endure is very sad to say the least...testing, testing and more testing backed up by ultrasound after ultrasound, no wonder my first time moms are stressed out and feeling anxious.
We need a better balance between medical interventions and what your body knows naturally! I just recently read an article that questions a possible connection between the use of Pitocin in delivery and ADHD.
There are risks involved with just about everything we do now a days so it is better to be informed. When i ask a client if they have been informed of any risks involving Ultrasound everyone answers NO!
I also am dead set against 3 & 4D ultrasounds sometimes given in shops set up in shopping malls.
If you are pregnant or know someone who is please refer them to the articles i mentioned.
I have been researching this topic for years now and it seems to me there is more evidence to support these claims...just sayin!

Banned From Baby Showers said...

Varyanna, another reader has contacted me, trying to contact you. She would like to interview you for a book she is writing titled THE BUSINESS OF BABY: HOW CORPORATIONS AND PRIVATE INTERESTS SKEW THE WAY WE PARENT. I hope you'll see this comment and get back with me so I can put you in touch with her. Email me at

Love, Lally said...

Thank you for speaking the truth. I know it is hard for most parents to hear, and that many people have had different experiences (for example, the people whose babies were diagnosed with a disorder in utero).

I am a Bradley teacher, and home birthing mom (looking forward to #3 in July), and although it was hard waiting to "know" about my second baby via ultrasound, we waited a solid 41 weeks to meet him, and he is absolutely perfect in every way. We only heard his heartbeat and had exquisite prenatal care from a midwife practice in the months leading up to his birth. My first child -- and I, obviously, was a first-time mom -- is perfect too, but we were pushed into a myriad of absolutely unnecessary procedures at my very first prenatal appt at 5 weeks. I was so traumatized by the lack of care, the overwhelming number of pricks and pokes with no explanation whatsoever, and the visible agitation on the part of the staff who couldn't stand my joy or the fact that I had basic questions -- they didn't want to be bothered. This was the best thing that ever happened to me because it started me on my quest for other options -- options that I didn't know existed or were possible -- I was totally ignorant at that point, but I knew that there must be other options, and that I was not going back to the ob practice to which I'd been sent.

Teaching on ultrasound is difficult for me, because most of my students have had many of them by the time they start my class. They end up being angry at me. Hopefully, for their next pregnancies, they'll do as much research on pregnancy, birth, and obstetrics (which does NOT have a great history as far as its involvement in normal birth) as they do in preparing to buy a car or camera . . .

Kate said...

Donna, I have seen the two references in the comments to how the third stage of labor is handled and the RhoGam shot- what is the connection though? Were you saying that the way the placenta is delivered you also believe has a link to autism? Or that it has to do with Rh blood type issues in future pregnancies? I am not that knowledgeable about any of these subjects, but am curious.

elisa said...

I have read that nations with national health insurance, where pregnant moms all receive u/s have higher rates of autism than in the US, where some women do not get ultrasound (because of disparities in health insurance and income). I have seen the stats that Canada, the UK and Australia do have higher rates than the US, but couldn't decipher the stats for Europe as compared to the US.

There is also info on each state's incidence of autism -- and in reading it, it seems that at least some of the states with higher poverty levels (like West Virginia, for example), and therefore less health insurance, have lower levels of autism. I hope someone does some research on this soon (the SEED program from CDC is apparently looking at this.) It should be a relatively "easy" thing to study statistically.

THank you for the info on this site!

Unknown said...

Kate, I believe she was trying to say that there may be issues in future pregnancies. In the third stage (delivery of the placenta)there may be mixing of maternal and newborn blood. If there is mixing and the baby was Rh positive, the Rh negative woman might be isoimmunized (her body produces antibodies) against Rh positive blood. This is fine for now, but her body has these antibodies stored for later use. If she then gets pregnant with another Rh positive baby, the antibodies may cause her to miscarry. The antibodies can attack baby's blood, seeing it as foreign. The third stage is the most common time for isoimmunization to occur, not guaranteed by any means but possible. It is possible but even more unlikely for it to occur during other times in pregnancy.
Look at the size of the placenta, dinner plate sized. There is a large wound in the uterus from where the placenta detached where mixing may occur. The placenta is baby's tissue and has baby's blood in it.
Rhogam has 'fake' antibodies. In a way, it tricks the body into thinking it already has antibodies (which won't affect the baby) so if there is mixing the mom won't produce any of her own antibodies. Rhogam only lasts a number of weeks. Hence the trend to get one around 28 weeks and then one postpartum.

Sarah Degner Riveros said...

I have had four Bradley homebirths under the care of midwives. I have never had an ultrasound. With baby #5, we are seriously considering an ultrasound because our baby is measuring 5 weeks bigger (by fundal height) than the gestational age suggests. The reason for a possible ultrasound (at 32 weeks) would be to see if we can get some confirmation of the estimated due date. Even then, ultrasound has a rate of error of 2-3 weeks when dating a pregnancy in the third trimester, so we won't get any more accurate than a "due month." We are still weighing the options with prayer and with research.