Wolfprint 3D, a company in Tallinn, Estonia, got its start as a simple 3-D printing service, but when one of the entrepreneur's friends found out his wife was expecting a child, a new idea struck, and the company now offers a service that can bring ultrasounds off the page and transform them into actual figurines using a 3-D printer.
According to the company's website, the process, which costs about $200, is pretty simple: A doctor performs the scan, uploads the 3-D file onto Wolfprint's servers, and the company prints it out and sends it back, framed for posterity. We have to admit, the ad for it is pretty sweet:
Video: Wolfprint 3D/YouTube
It's a novel idea, but whether it takes off really remains to be seen.
First, there's the question of whether people will actually want a rendered image of their unborn baby. Seeing baby's blurry face on a sonographer's screen is one thing, but being able to hold it in your hands is quite another. There's no denying that there's a little bit of creep factor at play, but moms who are excited about meeting their babies may not worry about that too much. One of the women who has used Wolfprint's services acknowledges this very fact in a testimonial posted to the site:
I cried when I saw it for the first time. I had 3D scans done with both of my older boys but this was totally different. It’s impossible to explain. You can touch it. My sister thought it was freaky, but I think it’s amazing. It feels like she’s already here. It’s strange, but I do probably feel closer to her than I did to my other babies when I was pregnant.
That's a pretty strong recommendation. Still, it won't be for everyone. After all, even when a human likeness is skillfully done, there's always something just a tad, well, off about it. Remember that adorable (but kinda freaky) Prince George cake? It's the uncanny valley come to life.
The other thing to take into consideration is that doctors are starting to warn people toward fewer keepsakes like these, not more. As a lot of unregulated private ultrasound clinics have popped up, health care professionals have expressed concern that women looking for a keepsake are electing to take unnecessary risks — albeit small ones — for a practice that is often done for no legitimate medical reason.
According to the FDA, ultrasound imaging, as performed by trained professionals for medical purposes, are in fact quite safe. That endorsement, however, is not extended to the popular "keepsake ultrasound" imaging that is often performed in nonmedical settings. Earlier this year, the administration officially warned expectant parents away from going to private, novelty ultrasound clinics.
According to that consumer update, the ultrasound waves heat the surrounding tissue slightly and can cause something called cavitation — partial vacuums in the amniotic fluid — and we just don't know yet if there are long-term risks associated with the practice.
In The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, Kim L. Armour, MSN, CNP, APN, RDMS, wrote that she worries that when women undergo these ultrasounds purely for entertainment purposes, there is always the risk that some crucial problem can be missed in all of the excitement, particularly if the machine operator is untrained. She believes there is no place for unregulated, unnecessary medical procedures, saying, "Having an EKG, EEG, or MRI for fun would be considered inappropriate, wouldn't it? Why do we subject a fetus to testing in an unregulated site, by unregulated practitioners?"
For all these reasons, doctors typically don't recommend them, and insurance companies usually won't pay for them. Parents who want a 3-D print ultrasound would have to consider whether they think the risk is worth taking.
Of course, we can understand why people do it and why the concept of a figurine you can hold might just be too good to pass up. By the time you've gotten relatively used to having your body hijacked, you start to realize you've got something of a long haul in front of you.
The prospect of meeting the little person you're toting around in your uterus isn't just exciting; waiting can be downright torturous. Lots of women will take any little bit of contact they can get to tide themselves over, and who knows? Wolfprint 3D's figurines might just be the next big thing.
For our money, though, the best three-dimensional rendering you can have of your baby is the one you make yourself, after nine long months of waiting.
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