Contrary to the general belief that a majority of pregnant women undergo ultrasonography (USG) only for sex selection, a study shows that 80 per cent of them have given live birth and the remaining had either undergone a pregnancy loss or both live births and abortion.

Only 5.4 per cent women who had reported at least one pregnancy loss including still birth, spontaneous abortion and induced abortion, had undergone an ultrasound test during the reference period indicating a high likelihood that a portion of these could have opted for sex selective abortion barring skill births, spontaneous abortions, major fetal anomalies and pregnancies endangering mother’s health.

Statistics also revealed that women seeking ante-natal care and those who were alerted for any pregnancy complications were more likely to undergo the USG test. The analysis has also shown a higher likelihood of use of ultrasound among women with only one daughter compared to those having only one son.

In a paper “Understanding the role of ultrasound in improving maternal care in India,” Sushanta K. Banerjee of Ipas-India and Sanjay K. Mohanty of International Institute for Population Sciences have examined the linkages between pregnancy loss (including induced abortions, spontaneous abortions and still births) using the data of the third round of National Family Health Survey, and concluded that increased use in USG is predominantly due to increase in prenatal care and to identify pregnancy complications.

The study is based on 41,376 women who were pregnant anytime during the past five years. Among them, 80 per cent had given one or more births in the given period without any pregnancy loss while 20 per cent had at least one pregnancy loss during one of their pregnancies.

Of those who had at least one USG for any of their pregnancies during the reference period, 80 per cent had one (51 per cent) or more (29 per cent) live births without any pregnancy loss, 9 per cent had one live birth and one pregnancy loss, 5 per cent had one pregnancy loss and two or more live births, another five per cent had one or more pregnancy loss and no birth and one had two or more pregnancy loss and one or two more births.

In other words, majority of the women who had undergone at least one USG had at least one live birth in the reference period. Among women who had only a live birth, 29 per cent had a USG done as compared to 36 per cent among those who had at least one pregnancy loss or both live births and pregnancy loss.

However, the analysis based on NFHS data has some limitations as it cannot be identified whether the loss is due to induced abortion, spontaneous or still birth.

Results also show that among women who had given live birth and did not have any pregnancy loss, a significantly higher proportion (45 per cent) of them availed the USG test. These women were not seeking USG for identification of sex of the foetus but were possibly interested in the development of it based on a medical practitioner’s advice.

An analysis of 16,000 women also found that among those who were alerted for pregnancy complications like vaginal bleeding, 64 per cent of them were likely to go for USG compared to 38 per cent who were not alerted.

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