On Ultrasound Parties

Prenatal ultrasounds in social settings were named a "trend" in "oversharing" this week. And yeah, it's easy to laugh at, but making health social is actually wonderful.

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Dr. Praveen Jha / Radiopedia

Prenatal ultrasound parties are so in this week. We're hearing all about how, in several places in the U.S., friends and family are getting together and having an ultrasonographer come to their homes and evaluate what's inside a pregnant friend's pregnant belly. 

This is happening enough to be a "trend" -- so called here, here, here, here, here. Specifically, it's being called an "oversharing" trend. Huffington Post also listed ultrasound parties among "7 Parties You Don't Want to Attend," and Jezebel called them "the latest rage for self-important pregnant women." Fair enough. It's a funny concept, and overindulgent self-importance can become a thing; but at the end of the week, we'd do well to step back from the cynicism on this one for a second.

The substantive argument against the parties is well summarized as OB/GYN Amber Sills told Lela Davidson in Today: "What if the ultrasonographer started the ultrasound and there was no heartbeat? ... Or what if the fetus had not developed a skull/head/brain? This happens more than most people realize. What do you do then?"

Sills points out that ultrasounds have traditionally been used to diagnose chromosomal disorders, malformations, and to aid in estimating fetal weight or the amount of amniotic fluid -- not for entertainment value.

Traditionally, yes. But making health social doesn't mean we're unduly turning it into entertainment.

Having a prenatal ultrasound that finds out anything is less than perfect with your kid can range from anxiety-inducing to debilitatingly traumatic. But people have to be aware that is a possibility, and we should concede that these party people are intelligent and they get that the point of ultrasounds is to identify birth defects, not to inform nursery paint selection.

There is definitely something to the notion of having close friends and family with you at a time like that. Within your inner circle of people (you're not inviting your boss and your grocer and your candlestick maker, presumably), in terms of health, there's no "oversharing." There's really only undersharing.

And yes, these parties could go either way. Everyone could be crying sadly together, or crying happily together, but as long as we're all clear that those are very real possibilities, I say go for it. It's a super vulnerable time, and if you want to have people there for it, if that makes it easier for you, awesome.

I'd never suggest that people have other people watch their ultrasound if they don't want to, or share anything about their health that they'd prefer to keep private. Just, if they do want to do this, under the guidance of their obstetrician, we'd do well to accept and get behind it.

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James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

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