You hear the word “ultrasound”…and you immediately think, baby!
There is little debate that one of the most exciting and interesting parts of pregnancy is when a baby scan (more commonly known as an ultrasound) is performed. There is nothing like catching the first glimpse of your “little nugget,” and therefore, a vast selection of ultrasounds exist. While there are different reasons for each scan, ultrasounds provide doctors and parents with a wealth of knowledge when it comes to caring for a baby in the womb and what his or her special needs might be. So, for all our future mommies and daddies-to-be out there, this article is to help you navigate the crazy world of pregnancy and ultrasounds. Simply kick back, relax, and let us put your mind at ease!
What Can an Ultrasound Really Tell You?
Baby scans are incredibly important throughout your entire pregnancy. Scans give doctors the ability to keep up with your baby and measure her progress. Initially, a scan is used to ensure that you are actually pregnant (Pretty important, right?). Even if you have missed a menstrual cycle and have taken a pregnancy test that read positive, it’s still a good idea to have an ultrasound to confirm.
Baby scans are also useful to tell your doctor how many weeks along you are and can even reveal how many babies are in the womb (if there is a possibility of twins) – which every mama wants to know!
As scary as it sounds, bleeding during pregnancy is not uncommon. Surprisingly, 20-30% of women experience vaginal bleeding in the early stages of pregnancy. While bleeding can be a sign of miscarriage, it is not a definite confirmation of a miscarriage, which is why it’s important to follow up with your doctor if bleeding occurs. If you experience bleeding, make a doctor’s appointment immediately, and keep track of the amount of blood you are losing. Ultrasounds are often utilized to determine if the embryo has a heartbeat, confirming or denying if a miscarriage or a pending miscarriage is occurring or has already occurred.
Ultrasounds are also able to detect if a pregnancy is ectopic. An ectopic pregnancy is when the embryo implants in a place other than the lining of your womb, commonly in the fallopian tube. This condition can be very dangerous for mother. If a rupture occurs there will be a lot of internal bleeding and this can be life threatening. A pregnancy that is developing outside the womb will not survive. If you experience symptoms of vaginal bleeding and pain in your lower abdomen that is significant, contact your doctor immediately, or go to the emergency room.
Luckily, tests can be done to check on the health of your unborn child. The first ultrasound can confirm the presence of single (or a multiple) pregnancy and determine that it is developing inside the womb and has a strong heartbeat. At this stage an ultrasound can determine your estimated delivery date with accuracy, sometimes more accurately than menstrual dates.
A First Trimester Screening is a combined blood test and ultrasound to determine if your baby is at risk for a chromosomal abnormality such as Down Syndrome. This test is usually performed between 11 and 13 weeks gestation. This test uses an ultrasound to assess whether a baby is at risk of having Down Syndrome or any other chromosomal abnormality by measuring the fluid behind the baby’s neck called the nuchal translucency. Combined with a blood test that analyzes the values of certain hormones the risk can be determined with a high rate of accuracy. This is not a diagnostic test and is only a screening to help identify those babies that may be at risk. As the fluid in the nuchal space increases so does the risk but it is important to remember that not all babies with an increased nuchal translucency have a problem. If a fetus has a high risk of an abnormality a diagnostic test such as a chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis may be ordered. These tests are not part of the scope of this article.
With ultrasound the baby’s entire anatomy can be assessed to ensure there are no physical or developmental abnormalities such as spina bifida, cleft lip, major heart defects etc.
Additionally, ultrasounds can also demonstrate baby’s growth and position inside your womb. Ultrasound will also demonstrate the location of the placenta and the amount of waters around the baby, (something us mommies love to hear about).
While some of these scans may sound a bit scary, others are very exciting! One of the more enjoyable ultrasounds you will have taken is the one which reveals the gender of your baby. However, the baby has to be in just the right position and age to determine if you’re going to be choosing pink sheets….or blue ones!
If you have previously had a premature birth due to an incompetent cervix, your doctor will most likely perform a cervical measurement by ultrasound as well. The length of the cervix can be determined by a simple measurement done transabdominally or the cervix may have to be measured later in pregnancy by a translabial or transvaginal approach.
As you can see, ultrasounds are a great way for doctors to monitor, rule out or diagnose any other potential issues that could arise for you, your baby, or both. Ultrasounds are ultra-necessary!
What Exactly is Going to Happen During My Ultrasound?
As a mommy-to-be (or just a woman in general), we function better when we know “the plan.” So, you will definitely be more at ease during your ultrasound if you know exactly what to expect when you walk in the door. An ultrasound is an imaging modality that sends sound waves into your body – these sound waves then bounce back off of organs (or in this case, your baby)! The echoed sound waves are arranged as computer generated images on a small screen, giving a real-time image of what’s (or should we say who’s) swimming around in your belly!
First things first. You will enter the examination room and spot the ultrasound machine all set up – it looks like a fairly advanced computer. A small wand-like tool, called the transducer, will be attached to the machine by a small cord. The transducer is what is used to send the sound waves into your body.
The Sonographer, will introduce herself and explain the procedure to you. Sonographers have been specially trained to do their job, so no worries – they’re the best in the business. Your Sonographer will ask you to lay back or recline on the examination table. You will be asked to raise your shirt up and over your stomach to expose your bump. You may also be asked to lower your pants to your hips to allow easy access.
The Sonographer will then spread a special gel over your stomach – this gel eliminates any friction on the surface of your stomach or air that could interrupt the sound waves from relaying clear images. The transducer will now be rubbed over the gel on your bump, sending the sound waves into the body and receiving the echoed sound waves back again.
In the early stages of pregnancy, a transvaginal scan is often preferred. In the first trimester, these internal scans are much more accurate than abdominal ultrasounds. The only difference with this sort of scan is that instead of using a transducer on the surface of your abdomen, a small probe will be inserted into your vagina. From this orientation a clear and accurate view can be obtained of your little embryo. You will be reclined on a table and kept well covered with your knees bent and your feet flat on the bed, just like during a pelvic exam (Oh-so-fun, right?).
So, what’s the good news? Ultrasounds are 100% safe for you and your baby. No side effects or risks have ever been reported in relation to ultrasounds. The only discomfort you may feel is from the coolness of the gel on your abdomen (or the probe in your vagina) – but that’s easy enough to take, right? Your ultrasound should only take 30 minutes at most – and you’ll receive a memorable first photo of your little one to keep!
When Do I Schedule My Ultrasounds? Do I Have More than One?
The earliest scan will be performed between 6 and 10 weeks into your pregnancy. This scan can determine how far along you are, how the baby is positioned in your uterus, and your approximate due date. It is also used to discover any cardiac activity the baby may be exhibiting. BUT… don’t panic if they can’t find your baby’s heartbeat at 6 weeks, as it’s fairly common to be undetectable. You will also find out if you are having one baby…two babies…or multiple babies! It’s truly an exciting (and informative) scan.
At 11 to 13 weeks, an ultrasound will be performed to check your baby’s growth. A first trimester screening can also be recommended. This is a combination of a blood test and an ultrasound to determine if your baby is at risk of Down Syndrome or any other chromosomal abnormality.
From 18 to 22 weeks, the Sonographer will take an extremely detailed scan of the anatomy of your baby. She will search for any cardiac defects, spina bifida (a condition of the spine where the spinal cord may be exposed through a defect in the backbone), facial structures, count extremities, look at the stomach, kidneys, bladder and any other congenital or morphological anomalies that can be detected at this stage in the pregnancy.
Finally, third trimester ultrasounds are all about assessing growth throughout the pregnancy. At this point, your baby’s position will be clear, and the position of the placenta will let your doctor know if you will be able to have a natural birth or may be safer opting for a caesarean section birth.
After 32 weeks, a complete biophysical profile can be performed. A BPP is a procedure meant to test the overall health of the baby and the mother. It is performed by checking the heart rate of the baby. It also keeps tabs on baby’s size, breathing, movement, muscle-tone, and amniotic fluid.
Scans, Scans, and More Scans!
Now, let’s do a quick run through of all the types of scans available for mommies-to-be…meaning, YOU! There are literally tons of ultrasounds and scans out there, and we want you to know exactly what they are, why you should consider them, and when you should be asking about them.
An Early Pregnancy Scan is a type of ultrasound that is carried out in the beginning stages of pregnancy. The ultrasound is performed using a transducer on the surface of the abdomen or a small probe inserted into the vagina. At this scan we determine the location of the embryo, the size of the embryo, your estimated due date by measuring the crown to rump length (CRL), number of embryos and most important the heartbeat..whew!!!
A First Trimester Screening is what we previously mentioned – a blood test accompanied by an ultrasound to determine if the baby is at risk for having Down Syndrome or any other chromosomal abnormality.
An Anomaly Scan is an in-depth detailed assessment of your baby. The Sonographer will determine how the baby is developing by checking the head, chest, abdomen, heart and extremities of your baby, as well as measurements to ensure she is on schedule for her big debut! The placenta and the amount of amniotic fluid surrounding your baby will also be assessed.
The Well Baby Scan is an ultrasound to assess baby’s size, baby’s position within the uterus, the location of the placenta and the volume of amniotic fluid. This is to ensure baby is developing within an acceptable growth pattern.
A Fetal Echocardiography focuses on the anatomy of the baby’s heart to include the size of the chambers, location of the heart in the chest, the heart valves and to look at the great vessels to ensure the heart has developed normally. If there is a possibility of the baby having congenital heart defects, this scan will reveal significant structural anomalies.
A 3D Scan isn’t typically necessary in most pregnancies, but it is good to understand (just in case). For this scan, specially designed probes and software generate 3-D images of your baby. Most often, parents simply want to have a 3D photo image of the baby rather than the traditional 2-D sonograms.
A Dynamic 3-D or a 4-D Ultrasound is performed using specifically designed scanners that give amazing real-time footage of the baby moving, waving and yawning. Having a sneak peak at the features of her face before birth is a very precious experience.
A Biophysical Profile (BPP) is used to assess a baby’s growth, breathing, movement, heart-rate, muscle tone, and amniotic fluid. This is performed fairly close to your baby’s due date to ensure that all is well as mother and baby prepare for birth.
Lastly, a Doppler Ultrasound is meant to document changes in blood flow within the fetal and placental circulation. This is especially important when assessing flow to and from the placenta by the vessels within the baby’s umbilical cord. Doppler can also look at arteries within the brain and heart. This scan is used to demonstrate whether she’s getting enough oxygen and nutrients when a problem is suspected such as a growth restriction.
And Now…You’re an Ultrasound Pro!
Baby scans are truly a huge part of understanding the reality of being pregnant… and capturing the very first glimpses of your new baby!
We know, as a mommy-to-be, you want to know everything and anything that has to do with the health and well-being of your baby, and ultrasounds are one of science’s most advanced ways of doing so. Staying in tune with your body, your doctor, and your baby is the key to a happy (and healthy) pregnancy…So, get ready to start tracking (or shall we say “scanning”) your little bundle of joy’s progress!!
To Schedule Your Carotid Doppler Ultrasound Scan Appointment Contact Us Today.
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All of the content and articles on our blog and website are intended for informational purposes only. Please do not consider any of the information provided here as a substitute for medical advice. At all times seek medical advice directly with your own doctor and medical team.