It is an almost unremarked and yet extraordinarily common practice now for expectant parents to send ultrasound photographs of their unborn babies to family and friends – almost as soon as they know of the pregnancy.

From 10 or 12 weeks’ gestation, it is the fashion to put up on Facebook, or otherwise send electronically, images of the baby in the womb. And predictably a business has sprung up to support the demand. Hello Baby in St Helen’s, Merseyside, scans up to 50 pregnant women a week, offering a range of merchandise featuring the picture of the baby – a coffee mug, a keyring, or a DVD of the 30-minute scan.

But now the Royal College of Obstetricians, as well as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice), is warning against the practice on the grounds that those operating the business may not understand “the standards and guidelines associated with ultrasound scanning”.

The medics say they are concerned that parents may be given the wrong information about gender or other anatomical details, such as the presence of a heartbeat. They are also concerned lest the operator be “unqualified”, or the ultrasound be too early in pregnancy.

Lydia Ellison, who runs Hello Baby, insists that all procedures are safe and she has many happy customers. She also suggests that criticism of her enterprise might be because “people are jealous”.

It is true that professionals are often “jealous” when outsiders seem to intrude on their territory. Established institutions such as Nice and the Royal College will not want freelance competitors in the field.

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