For many moms, a prenatal photo album is as important today as a baby shower. Sometimes, high-tech photos are part of the baby shower entertainment. What do pregnant women need to know before booking an ultrasound? Dr. Phillip H. Stratemeier, who specializes in radiology at St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City, answered these questions on the subject of nonmedical, pre-natal ultrasounds. Q:What is your opinion on "designer ultrasound boutiques” that offer 3-D and 4-D ultrasounds for parents to see better pictures of their baby? A:First, we need to define a ... boutique ultrasound as a place primarily set up to use ultrasound to show pictures of a woman's baby without a request from the mother's physician. While by law they must be operated under the direction of a licensed physician, rarely is one present to supervise. This is a medical test using sound waves, and while it seems safe, it still should be done with care by a licensed ultrasonographer under the direction of an experienced physician. Q:Are the ultrasounds safe? A:We don't know how safe they are when they aren't done under the supervision of a licensed physician. Ultrasound has been used to define the health of a developing baby in the womb for several decades. In the hands of experienced physicians or their trained sonographers, it is a relatively safe procedure. But the long-term effects of ultrasound on a developing baby may not be fully known; thus, the procedure is regulated by the state. Q:What is driving this trend? A:Mothers want to see their developing baby. It's natural. The owners of the boutiques see an opportunity to make money by showing pictures just like photographers specializing in children's photography. Women are willing to pay the price. Since these aren't diagnostic exams with strict criteria, they can be performed quickly at minimal cost and can turn a profit.” Q:What should a pregnant woman know about ultrasound boutiques? A:These exams ... are not done with the care a diagnostic exam is done, following set guidelines looking at each part of the anatomy and measuring structures for correct development. The exam may not show enough of the baby to exclude some abnormality. Thus, a mother should not feel confident that the baby is healthy just because it looks cute. Q:Should these ultrasounds be done in a hospital setting or doctor's office? A:All exams done at a hospital or diagnostic facility under the order of a physician are performed according to set standards that look at the baby to see that everything is developing properly. ... A doctor is usually nearby to assist ... in case there is a concern. That physician will write a report to the referring physician about the results. ••• Stratemeier said that if something is wrong with the baby, most sonographers would not be able to give the information that a physician could. It could be a devastating moment for an expectant mother in a setting where she is unable to get answers. Pregnant moms in Oklahoma and throughout the country are going to prenatal imaging centers in malls and office centers for 4-D ultrasound imaging of their baby. Many of the pregnant moms have already had a diagnostic ultrasound at their medical center or doctor's office and are ready for the fun part of their pregnancy. The trend with many pregnant women is to have a second ultrasound usually at 27 weeks to get the clearest possible photos and DVD to share with friends and family. The nonmedical setting, often in boutique-like, comfortably furnished rooms, appeals to women who want detailed images of their baby. Boutique ultrasounds have gained acceptance for the most part. What do pregnant moms need to know when booking a session for a prenatal ultrasound? Mike Wahkinney graduated with a bachelor's degree in ultrasound from the University of Oklahoma. He is a registered technician and opened Baby Faces two years ago. He said the women who come to Baby Faces have all had a first diagnostic ultrasound with their doctors. "I do think women need to do some checking before they go to get an ultrasound,” Wahkinney said. "People think, ‘Well, someone is doing this, and they must know what they are doing,” but that's not always the case.” Wahkinney said he is a diagnostic medical sonographer with local and national registration. Barbara Pennell, a registered sonographer, opened Ultrasound Unlimited 20 years ago. She completed a degree program at OU Health Sciences Center. She said the new technology is creating a phenomenon nationwide because 4-D technology incorporates time and movement. "The technology is amazing, but it was created to find problems, and then the fun part evolved,” Pennell said. "Anytime a person has an ultrasound, there should be a thorough check of the baby,” Pennell said.