Ultrasound technology uses sound waves to help your doctor “see” your baby while still in your womb. Either a physician or an ultrasound technician who has been trained in the use of ultrasound during pregnancy will perform your ultrasound. They will place gel on your tummy and use a transducer placed on your abdomen to emit high frequency sound waves which are reflected back toward the transducer when they encounter objects in their path. The ultrasound then processes these reflected sound waves and uses them to form an image of your pregnancy on the monitor you can then see. Although this image may initially appear difficult to understand, the ultrasound technician or your physician can help you make more sense of what you are seeing.
Ultrasounds of your baby involve the use of sound waves to help visualize your baby and are considered safe, even if you require multiple ultrasounds during your pregnancy. However, an ultrasound of your baby is nevertheless considered a medical diagnostic procedure and should not be done just for entertainment purposes. Your doctor will let you know when an ultrasound is recommended to help ensure the healthy development of your baby.
When you have reached approximately 18 to 20 weeks gestation, a detailed ultrasound is often performed to evaluate your pregnancy. This is the ideal time to evaluate your baby’s development for two reasons. First, your baby is sufficiently developed at this stage of your pregnancy to allow a thorough review of his or her anatomy, ensuring that your baby appears healthy and well developed. Second, your baby’s bones will become more calcified and your baby will become more cramped inside your uterus as your pregnancy progresses. As this occurs, it becomes more challenging to see your baby well later in pregnancy.
Your ultrasound will help your doctor to care for your baby. It can help to screen for many types of birth defects that may affect a baby’s health after delivery and ensure that your baby has physically developed well. It can confirm that your due date is correct, as well as the baby’s position, the location of your placenta and that there is sufficient amniotic fluid present. Ultrasounds are also helpful in confirming that your baby is continuing to grow appropriately and is therefore getting the necessary nutrition from your placenta. Occasionally, you may even be surprised with the news that you are expecting more than one baby, such as with twins. You will want to decide in advance whether or not you want to know if you are expecting a boy or a girl, since your doctor will not want to ruin the surprise if you have decided to wait until delivery to find out what you are having.
All of these aspects of an ultrasound will provide valuable information your physician can use to assist you in having a healthy, successful pregnancy. However, it is important to remember that ultrasound technology has limitations and is not able to visualize all problems that a developing baby may experience, even in the hands of the best doctors and ultrasonographers. The “sensitivity” or the ability of ultrasound to correctly detect fetal abnormalities may vary widely, with estimates ranging from thirteen to eighty-four percent depending on the abnormality involved, but averages approximately forty percent. Accordingly, an ultrasound study cannot guarantee a normal baby, although every effort is made to be thorough and accurate during an ultrasound procedure.
Since an ultrasound needs fluid to see your baby, ensuring that you drink four to six glasses of water prior to your ultrasound will help you have a moderately full bladder. This will help to elevate the baby out of the pelvis and provide a clear window through which your baby can be seen. To help you be more comfortable during your ultrasound appointment, consider wearing a two-piece outfit since you will need to expose your abdomen to allow the ultrasound study to be performed.
Ask in advance about the policy of your doctor’s office is with regards to obtaining pictures or a brief recording of a part of your baby’s ultrasound. If recording some of your baby’s ultrasound can be done, ask if you need to bring a VCR tape or a recordable DVD since different ultrasound machines may use different recording devices. Lastly, inquire if the ultrasound room is sufficiently large to accommodate additional people such as your partner or other family members who may want to attend.
Enjoy your baby’s ultrasound. Seeing your developing baby on the ultrasound screen will help you to feel closer to your unborn baby and make all of the morning sickness and discomforts you may have experienced seem worthwhile. We hope this brief overview will help you to appreciate this experience more fully and feel prepared for a great ultrasound experience. Use the ultrasound checklist below prior to your ultrasound as a reminder before you leave for your appointment.