Ultrasound technology makes it possible to monitor the growth and development of your baby in the womb and gives you the excitement of seeing those first grainy images. The number of ultrasounds your doctor will request depends on various factors, but most often obstetricians use one during the 2nd trimester to get a baseline health assessment of your baby.
What Is An Ultrasound?
Different from an x-ray that can pose dangers to your developing baby, ultrasound technology uses high-pitched sound waves that are collected by a transducer, the device the technician glides across your abdomen. As the sound waves bounce across your baby, organs, and the surrounding structures, an image is formed. Each image together creates the very first “home video” of your baby, and the technician can stop the recording at any moment to take a single picture. Often a series of pictures are taken of various aspects of the pregnancy:
- your baby’s organs and how well they are working
- your baby’s limbs and bone structure
- your baby’s head
- the environment of your baby
- your baby’s height and approximate size
- a confirmation of the expected due date
Except for a bit of pressure from the transducer and the jelly that is placed on your belly, an ultrasound is not a painful procedure. Sometimes vaginal transducers are used early in the pregnancy when a doctor feels earlier pictures are needed but the pregnancy is not yet developed enough for a typical abdominal scan to work.
Why Do I Need an Ultrasound?
Trained technicians can use ultrasound technology to assess the health of your baby and a variety of conditions that might otherwise not be known until after birth. Potential problems can be seen and steps taken to improve the situation. Sometimes ultrasounds catch problems that need to be addressed immediately for the health of you and your baby. And sometimes ultrasounds just reassure parents of the health of their babies – and maybe give clues to the gender.
So how many ultrasounds do you need during pregnancy?
It depends. The most effective time to have an ultrasound in a healthy pregnancy is between 18 and 22 weeks gestation. During this window of opportunity the organs are developed to a point where technicians can assess their functions, and the baby is large enough to adequately determine growth.
There are other times when your doctor may request an ultrasound, including:
- to determine the due date if it is in question
- to determine the position of the baby, especially if breech is a concern
- to assess the placenta growth
- to assess the fluid levels in the womb
- to monitor pregnancies of multiples more closely for specific multiple-related complications
- to check on a baby who is not active or shows signs of failure to thrive
- to look for possible genetic problems that could affect the baby’s future health
- to assess possible complications from things such as placenta previa or uterine growths that are affecting the pregnancy
Ultrasound technology has been used for decades very safely and has provided doctors with valuable information that has helped to save countless lives and improve the health of babies. If you have any questions or concerns about your ultrasound, be sure to ask your healthcare provider.