It's a booming baby business, but are 3D/4D ultrasounds really worth the risk?

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- It's a booming baby business, and it grows every year, but this business is cashing in on unborn babies and their parents, who want just one more glimpse. But are 3D/4D ultrasounds really worth the risk?

Every expectant parent has a moment where it hits them. For Nicole and Benson Klemme, that moment was the first time they saw their baby. And they didn't have to wait nine months.

3D/4D ultrasounds began to grow in popularity in the early 2000s, and now, the keepsake ultrasound industry, as it's commonly called, has exploded. There are more than a half-dozen facilities in Wisconsin.

Anna Rodekuhr's "My First Peekaboo" is one of them.

"We basically take that same equipment that`s in a doctor`s office and we create this wonderful bonding experience for parents with it," Rodekuhr said.

The experience is purely for entertainment and allows parents to take home pictures of their baby, a DVD of the session and other souvenirs -- for a price, of course.

"Any picture that we see up there that we like, she can rewind it and capture it and it put on film for us," Benson Klemme said.

Not everyone agrees 3D/4D ultrasounds are safe. In fact, the FDA has put out numerous warnings, encouraging expectant mothers to stay away from these elective ultrasounds -- saying in part: "Ultrasound scans should be done only when there is a medical need, based on a prescription, and performed by appropriately-trained operators."

The FDA admits there has never been evidence of physical harm to a fetus because of ultrasound exposure, but it still advises against it.

Dr. Ricardo Mastrolia is a maternal fetal medicine practitioner with Aurora Healthcare. He says he agrees with the FDA warning as well as with the stance of the medical associations his practicing standards are set by.

"Simply because there is no evidence of fetal harm to this point, it does not mean that in the future that evidence will emerge showing adverse biological effects. It's a powerful tool. It's something we should understand fully and something we should be competent in and be wielded by those who fully understand its use," Dr. Mastrolia said.

Unlike medical ultrasound technicians or sonographers who go to school for years at places like Aurora St. Luke's, for these keepsake shops, there's no schooling required. There's no test to pass. There's no certification needed. Like most other states, in Wisconsin, the industry as a whole is unregulated, including the ultrasound machines themselves.

"You`re dealing with absolute incompetence. You`re dealing with no standard, no anything," Dr. Sheldon Wasserman, OB/GYN said.

Dr. Wasserman is the former chairman of the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board and a former state lawmaker. He says there is one goal for these keepsake shops -- money.

"They prey on the fears of pregnant women," Dr. Wasserman said.

Despite the warnings, elective ultrasounds are still popular.

"There are some ethical centers, people that are principled and very clearly say to the patient that this is solely for the purpose of entertainment," Dr. Mastrolia said.

Anna Rodekuhr requires all of her clients to show proof of prenatal care and has her machines checked twice a year. She'll also be the first to tell you to do your research when choosing a keepsake facility.

"Doing what I do, I can understand and respect the fact that there are people that don`t believe what we do is valuable and there are going to be people like that and I`m okay with that," Rodekuhr said.

"If there`s no purpose, what are you doing and where are you going and who`s doing it?" Dr. Wasserman said.

The Klemmes say they feel the experience of seeing their child grow and develop is magical and priceelss.

"We're a family already," Nicole Klemme said.

Currently, Connecticut is the only state in the United State to ban these keepsake ultrasound shops. That was put on the books in 2009. Dr. Wasserman says he hopes to see this industry regulated some day, but doesn't see it happening here in Wisconsin any time in the near future.