Prenatal Ultrasound

Ultrasound (also known as sonogram) is used in pregnancy to examine the developing baby Ultrasound uses sound waves that reflect off the baby to generate a picture

In the first trimester of pregnancy the detail that can be seen in ultrasound is limited due to the small size of the baby Sometimes ultrasound is done early in the pregnancy to confirm the due date, or to tell if it is a twin pregnancy At around 10-14 weeks an optional ultrasound to measure the nuchal translucency can be done The nuchal translucency is the fluid filled space at the back of the baby’s neck This measurement is used as a screening tool for Down syndrome and other genetic conditions

It may be done in combination with a blood draw on the mother to help estimate the chances for these conditions Most women will undergo ultrasound in the second trimester of pregnancy – usually between 16-20 weeks Many look forward to this as an opportunity to determine the sex of the baby, but there is a lot more to it than that! This ultrasound looks at the developing baby from head to toe, to see if there are any signs of birth defects or genetic conditions It is important to know that ultrasound cannot detect all genetic conditions or birth defects No test can guarantee the birth of a healthy baby

Most of the time women will have a normal ultrasound and will leave with some of the first pictures for the baby book Sometimes there is a finding on ultrasound that can raise concern; having some background about what is being looked for with ultrasound can help you be prepared Findings on ultrasound can be put into two categories: 1 Structural abnormalities 2 Minor markers The severity of structural abnormalities is variable; from minor and treatable to severe

Some examples of structural abnormalities are heart defects, cleft lip and palate, clubfoot, spina bifida, or extra fingers or toes A minor marker is a finding on ultrasound that may suggest an increased chance for a certain genetic condition, but by itself does not cause any health concerns Many times a minor marker is just a variation in normal development If a structural abnormality is seen on ultrasound, a referral to a specialist can be helpful to learn more about what to expect and plan next steps For instance, if a heart defect is seen on ultrasound you may be referred to a doctor that specializes in children’s hearts to discuss the finding and make a plan for the birth of your baby

Structural abnormalities and certain minor markers may indicate an increased chance for a genetic condition and you should be offered genetic counseling and further testing such as amniocentesis that may provide you with more information as to whether the baby has a specific genetic condition or not All further testing is optional Currently, there is no evidence that ultrasound, when used appropriately, is harmful to a developing baby However, ultrasound should be done only for medical reasons, by qualified health care providers Decisions about ultrasound in your pregnancy should be made in consultation with your healthcare provider

See our video, How to Decide About Prenatal Genetic Testing, as you consider your testing options


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