Ultrasound During Pregnancy

You are pregnant and you want to “see” your baby, right? You eagerly want to know if your baby is safe, how your infant is developing and this is when you want to take an ultrasound test.

Ultrasound has become a common and very welcoming part of pregnancy. You learn about different aspects of being a mother, get you see your child, feel his heartbeat and check the overall heath and anatomy of your baby.

Ultrasound, also referred to as sonogram is a prenatal test offered to and taken by most pregnant women today. With sound waves that scan the woman’s abdomen and pelvic cavity, the test pictures the baby located inside the womb and the placenta.

Not just that, if you want to know if it’s a boy or a girl, ultrasound during pregnancy is what gives you the details about your baby.

Types of ultrasound

There are seven different types of ultrasound tests that can be carried out, however, all of them have the same motive and the same principles. They are:

Trans-vaginal Scans is used generally during the early stages of pregnancy. This test makes use of specially designed probe transducers that are placed inside the vagina to develop the images inside.

Standard Ultrasound is a traditional ultrasound test. A transducer is placed over the abdomen of pregnant women and 2-D images of developing fetus are generated.

Advanced Ultrasound is carried out similar to as the standard ultrasound. However, the test is carried out in special cases to find problems and makes use of advanced devices.

Doppler Ultrasound works on the principle of doppler effect where the imaging is done by analyzing the change in the frequency when sound waves are reflected through blood cells.

3-D Ultrasound is an advanced technology that has its own software and specially designed probes to generate 3D images.

4-D or Dynamic 3-D Ultrasound is used in order to picture the baby’s face and movements right before the delivery.

Fetal Echocardiography is used to assess details about the health, heart functions and overall anatomy of the baby. This test is also carried out to detect any sort of congenital defects in baby’s heart.

Why is ultrasound necessary during pregnancy?

There are several reasons why ultrasound is carried out and tested during pregnancy. Here are a few:

  • To make sure you are pregnant
  • To find details about your baby’s age and development to figure out a due date.
  • To check the health, heart beat, movement and anatomy of your baby
  • To see is you are having a boy or a girl, twins, triplets or more
  • To detect is there are any birth defects
  • To examine internal organs including ovaries and the uterus
  • To detect complications including miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy and molar pregnancy

How is an ultrasound performed?

The ultrasound test involves physics to find details and generate pictures and visual images of your baby and organs inside your body.

The test involves a transducer, often called as a wand in general terms and a chilly gel that acts as a conductor. The wand generates sound waves that penetrate the abdominal muscles and are reflected or bounced back from moving parts including blood vessels to produce an image.

A video screen is used to see the image generated during ultrasound.

Also, depending upon the time and the type of ultrasound, the practitioner might opt for several methods as necessary.

How many ultrasounds are done during pregnancy?

During the first and second week of pregnancy, you don’t get to see noticeable signs of baby development. However, after the third or the fourth week, the changes are noticeable.

Most women go through the test only twice during their pregnancy. The first ultrasound test can be taken early in the first trimester.

During the first trimester, a transvaginal or internal ultrasound is carried out with a long transducer covered with a condom and sterile lubricant inserted inside the vagina.

The wand is moved in different directions to analyze and scan the uterus. The process takes anywhere between 20 to 30 minutes and is generally painless, except a few times when the abdomen is pressed to see different parts more clearly.

The first ultrasound is done in order to:

  • Confirm pregnancy
  • Confirm that the baby has a heartbeat
  • Measure the crown-rump length or gestational age
  • Confirm molar or ectopic pregnancies
  • Get details about abnormal gestation

A level 2 ultrasound is performed during the middle stages of pregnancy, in the second trimester. This time, the test is aimed to:

  • Find details if any fetal malformation exist
    • Potential Down syndrome during week 13 and 14
    • Congenital malformations during week 18-20
  • Check for structural abnormalities
  • Very due dates
  • Check if multiples exist
  • Detail on the hormonal levels and amniotic fluid
  • Evaluate the overall heath of fetus

Some women also take the ultrasound test during third trimester of pregnancy in order to:

  • Observe fetal movement and presentation
  • Check for uterine problems

However, several health related problems might require you to take it more. For example, cases involving spotting require you to go through the ultrasound test in order to confirm that everything is fine.

Similarly, ultrasound during pregnancy is also part of other tests including nuchal translucency screening, chorionic villus sampling, biophysical profiling and amniocentesis.

What happens after an ultrasound?

Most pregnant women who go through ultrasound want to remain on the safe side and make sure that they and the baby are healthy. If you’ve been found to be normal after an ultrasound test, there is no problem and you can carry on the other prenatal checkups you are required to go through.

However, an ultrasound test might detect abnormalities in you or the baby. For example, spina bifida is an abnormality in to-be-born children where the bone in the spinal cord does not develop as it should. In that case, the baby is treated inside the womb before birth.

Similarly, if your baby is breech, or does not have a head-down position, the doctor or the practitioner might try to flip the position from feet-down to head-down. If that does not happen, you might need to have a c-section or the cesarean section surgery during your delivery.

Is ultrasound during pregnancy safe?

Ultrasound procedures are deemed to be non-invasive and very low-risked. However, unnecessary exposure to sound waves for long term might have consequences and no researcher has opted to test a fetus to investigate the long-term effects of it.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists urge doctors and practitioners to go through an ultrasound test in pregnant mother when it’s medically necessary. They also have asked practitioners and pregnant women to avoid 3D and 4D sonograms during pregnancy together with home-monitors that are advertised by private companies.

It has also been reported that women undergo an average of five ultrasound in general, three more than what is expected.

It is also advised to consult your doctor to ensure that the prenatal test you’re taking is safe and required.

Grishma Giri

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