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4 things to know about ultrasounds

Lana Bandoim's picture

For parents expecting their first child, an ultrasound is one of the most exciting parts of the pregnancy. It gives you the opportunity to see your child’s heartbeat and movement. However, it can also cause anxiety and concern if you do not know what to expect. Before you get an ultrasound, you may want to consider the following points.


What is the purpose of an ultrasound?

Ultrasounds have become a standard part of prenatal care in today’s medical system. Early in the pregnancy, ultrasounds are used to detect and confirm the presence of a fetal heartbeat. Later in the pregnancy, ultrasounds can be used to screen for the placenta location, fetal growth, general health and anatomy of the baby. Ultrasounds can also be used to check the length of the pregnant mother’s cervix, and alleviate concerns if there is any suspicion of preterm labor.

How is an ultrasound performed?

An ultrasound is performed by a licensed technician or a sonographer who has been trained to use the ultrasound technology and discuss the findings with the patient. Expectant mothers should know that all sonographers have undergone ultrasound training courses that instruct them on how the physical technology works, how the software interacts with the device and how to interpret the results.

Sonographers perform an ultrasound examination by using a transducer or wand. They start by placing a cool gel on the mother’s abdomen and then use the transducer over the area to gain a visual of the inside of the uterus.

When the transducer is rubbed over the abdomen, sound waves bounce off the structures inside. The presence of the baby becomes apparent and an image is produced on the video screen. This examination typically only lasts a few minutes, or until the sonographer gathers all of the information he or she needs.

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What is the difference between 2D, Doppler, 3D and 4D ultrasounds?

The most common ultrasound is the 2D ultrasound. This is the one discussed above. However, it should be noted that there are many different ultrasound technologies that are sometimes used for various purposes. A Doppler ultrasound is similar to the 2D version, but it uses additional technology to amplify the sound of the fetal heartbeat instead of just having a 2D image of it.

Although they are newer and more expensive, many expectant mothers are asking for 3D ultrasounds, so they can see the face and body of their baby. These ultrasounds take images from multiple angles and then piece them together for a three-dimensional image. The 4D ultrasound takes this a step further by showing movement such as the opening and closing of the eyes or sucking of the thumb.

What should you expect at each ultrasound appointment?

Most pregnant mothers will get two ultrasounds during the course of their pregnancy. However, it is not unusual for a third to be given if the circumstances call for it. In general, you will only get one ultrasound per trimester, and you may even skip the third trimester completely.

You will likely get your first ultrasound, also known as a sonogram, within the first couple months of your pregnancy. At this stage, the baby is very small and the fallopian tubes and uterus are closer to the birth canal than the abdomen. This means the test will be conducted transvaginally for the clearest picture. It will be hard to see much during this initial snapshot, but it is still exciting for new parents.

The second ultrasound usually comes between weeks 18 and 20 of the pregnancy, which provides a much clearer look at the baby. This is the standard ultrasound that was previously discussed. If the doctor believes it is necessary, you may receive a third ultrasound late in the pregnancy to keep an eye on any risks or issues. Assuming no issues arise after the second or third ultrasound, you should be allowed to finish your pregnancy and wait for the arrival of your newborn.