Commercial ultrasound businesses often set up shop in malls and are operated by untrained technicians, yet plenty of pregnant mothers use them to get ultrasounds of their babies without having to see a doctor to do so.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has, for years, been warning consumers about the potential hazards of these “keepsake” ultrasounds. Now, in a new press release, the FDA states that ultrasounds or heartbeat monitors are “designed to be used by trained health care professionals” and “are not intended for over-the-counter (OTC) sale or use, and the FDA strongly discourages their use for creating fetal keepsake images and videos.”

Ultrasounds use sound waves to produce an image and are able to provide information on the fetus’s age, sex, and general health; overall, they’re considered a safe and productive way to check on your baby during pregnancy. But “keepsake” ultrasounds that aren’t completed in a hospital setting might pose a threat to both fetus and mother, the FDA warns.

“Although there is lack of evidence of any harm due to ultrasound imaging and heartbeat monitors, prudent use of these devices by trained health care providers is important,” Shahram Vaezy, an FDA biomedical engineer, said in the press release. “Ultrasound can heat tissues slightly, and in some cases, it can also produce very small bubbles (cavitation) in some tissues.”

In 1994, the FDA discovered three companies in Texas that were selling ultrasound products to expectant parents, and gradually discovered more throughout the country. These ultrasounds were “being performed by untrained, unlicensed technicians” without a doctor’s supervision, the FDA stated.

In 2005, the FDA released a warning statement about keepsake ultrasounds: “Laboratory studies have shown that diagnostic levels of ultrasound can produce physical effects in tissue, such as mechanical vibrations and rise in temperature. Although there is no evidence that these physical effects can harm the fetus, public health experts, clinicians and industry agree that casual exposure to ultrasound, especially during pregnancy, should be avoided.”

Since then, some states — such as Connecticut — have passed laws prohibiting the use of keepsake ultrasounds. But they’re still able to be purchased in various parts of the country.

While it’s safe to say no one is quite sure yet what the potential damage might be, avoiding these keepsake ultrasounds may be the best decision. Having a connection to your unborn infant via ultrasound and a heartbeat monitor is important, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“When the product is purchased over the counter and used without consultation with a health care professional taking care of the pregnant woman, there is no oversight of how the device is used,” Vaezy said in the press release. “Also, there is little or no medical benefit expected from the exposure. Furthermore, the number of sessions or the length of a session in scanning a fetus is uncontrolled, and that increases the potential for harm to the fetus and eventually the mother.”