An ultrasound is a prenatal test that uses sound waves to look inside your uterus and display an image of the amniotic sac, the placenta, and most importantly, Baby!
Ultrasounds are your healthcare provider’s best way of monitoring baby throughout your pregnancy, from the time they're a tiny-tailed little thing, to when they're just about ready to meet you.
When is an ultrasound performed?
Ultrasounds can be employed throughout pregnancy for a variety of reasons, from confirming the pregnancy, to checking on Baby’s health, to seeing if it’s a boy or a girl! Some providers will elect to perform an ultrasound during the first trimester for all women. This is to make sure that they have implanted correctly, and to determine the due date, although many practitioners will only perform a first trimester ultrasound if he or she believes you may have a multiple pregnancy, or if you have presented risk factors for miscarriage, or another pregnancy complication like an ectopic or molar pregnancy.
Ultrasounds are also a part of the First Trimester Combined Screen, in which your provider may perform a Nuchal Translucency ultrasound to see if baby has a risk factor for Down syndrome.
Most moms-to-be will undergo an ultrasound at about 20 weeks, in which your healthcare professional will check on Baby’s size and health to make sure that there are no anomalies, as well as the position of the umbilical cord and placenta. Your practitioner will also be able to tell you whether baby is a boy or a girl if you want to know.
If healthcare providers detect pregnancy complications that require closer monitoring, they may use ultrasounds more frequently throughout gestation. Ultrasounds may also be used in conjunction with procedures like an External Cephalic Version (ECV) to get an accurate sense of Baby’s relative positioning before attempting any movement.
How is an ultrasound performed?
There are a few different types of ultrasounds that you may elect, or your provider may recommend, that you undergo throughout your pregnancy. To perform the traditional, most commonly used ultrasound, your medical professional will begin by spreading a (pretty cold) gel across your belly, which will help conduct the sound waves into your body to display the most clear picture of Baby’s apartment as possible.
After applying the gel, the practitioner will wave a magic wand-like device known as a transducer over your stomach, which sends sound waves down into your uterus. Once the waves bounce back, they are converted into images and displayed on the monitor, allowing you to see Baby, the placenta, and the amniotic fluid.
A transvaginal ultrasound may be used during the first trimester, as it displays more accurate images of baby at an early level of development than a standard ultrasound. Rather than waving the transducer across your abdomen, the practitioner will insert it into your vagina, providing a much more direct view of Baby than with a traditional ultrasound.
- “Ultrasound during pregnancy.” March of Dimes. March of Dimes, 10/14/2015. Web.
- “Slide show: Fetal ultrasound.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, n.d. Web.