Caution Urged On Fetal Photos

It's as realistic a "preview of coming attractions" as any Los Angeles studio could offer.

Ultrasound portrait studios with catchy names like "Stork Vision", "Window in the Womb" and "Fetal Fotos" offer keepsake images in 3-D or 4-D for parents-to-be for about $200, usually in a strip mall without a doctor, reports CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowen.

Proponents say the boutiques offer a bonding experience for the mother in a more relaxed, more nurturing environment than a doctor's office.

"We're picture fanatics!," said mother-to-be Iberia Brogmus. "We want to capture every moment of our baby, and every detail."

"She just wants to see the baby, she wants to see the hands, she wants to see that heartbeat, and it's not always something that's offered to them," added Valerie Christensen, the owner of Fetal Fotos.

But obstetricians like Dr. Lawrence Platt warn the technology isn't a toy. He says exposure to high-frequency sound waves for anything other than a diagnostic scan, isn't a chance worth taking.

"It's unfortunate. It's a misuse of technology,'' said Platt, who is with the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine.

"It takes the concept and says, it's absolutely safe. And we can't prove it's absolutely safe."

Moreover, Platt and other health professionals -- including the FDA -- fear some expectant mothers might substitute a scan at the mall for their doctor's expert eye.

When Maggie Gardner got her fetal photo, she thought something didn't look right.

"Both my husband and I noticed that the back of his head looked longer, or strange, something about it, and we both asked what it was and the response that we got was, 'Oh, it's probably just the placenta,'" Gardner said.

It wasn't. The new scans, which are nearly picture perfect, often mask internal abnormalities. And in Maggie's case, it was a deformity that cost her the baby. It is something she wishes she had first seen with her doctor, not a technician in a shopping mall.

"We really thought we had a healthy son. We really thought we had a healthy son and we were proven very very, otherwise," she said.

Most studios say they won't perform a scan unless they have written permission from the client's doctor.

The problem? There's no one to enforce that rule. So far, the FDA only regulates the equipment, not those who use it.

Which is one more reason many health experts urge a little "picture patience." After all, you'll see the real thing soon enough.

Fetal Photos