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Early in the use of fetal ultrasound, clinicians could only detect the baby's head, Nicolson said.
"But gradually, with developing expertise, they could discern fine structures in the fetus," he said. One of the main advantages of ultrasound is that it's noninvasive.
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"We can be confident that at the levels currently used for clinical investigation, ultrasound is safe.
For example, so-called "bonding scans," images taken purely for commemorative purposes, unnecessarily expose a fetus to the high-energy sound waves, Nicolson said. Ultrasound has enjoyed an enthusiastic reception by pregnant women.During a scan, ultrasound waves are aimed at a pregnant women's abdomen.Based on the angle of the beam, and the time it takes for echoes to return, an image of body structures inside the fetus can be generated.A new book explores the history of ultrasounds, in both their technical and social dimensions.In "Imaging and Imagining the Fetus: The Development of Obstetric Ultrasound" (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), authors Malcolm Nicolson, a history of medicine professor at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, and engineer John Fleming look at how ultrasounds came into wide use, and why their images lie at the crossroads of several hotly debated issues today. Ultrasound was first used for clinical purposes in 1956 in Glasgow.