Prenatal Tests 101 Routine Ultrasound Pregnancy ScansThe medical community overwhelmingly agrees that ultrasound pregnancy scans can provide a variety of important information to expecting parents and their healthcare provider(s).  Beyond merely identifying the sex of a baby, ultrasounds can reveal fetal anomalies as well as potential birth complications.  During a complication-free pregnancy, your OB or midwife may only recommend 2 or 3 ultrasounds to measure your baby’s growth—one each during the second and third trimesters. 

However, if you have a high risk pregnancy, if your baby falls behind on normal growth expectancy, or if any abnormalities are detected through any of the trimester tests, your doctor or midwife may recommend monthly ultrasound sounds to record the progress of your baby.

Ultrasound Pregnancy Basics

Ultrasounds can be used for several important reasons.  First, they can determine a baby’s due date based on his or her size and development.  Second, it can confirm whether or not a mother is carrying multiple babies.  Third, they are able to identify potential complications or genetic abnormalities.  Ultrasounds can confirm ectopic pregnancies as well as neural tube defects.  Fourth, they can reveal birth complications such as breech positioning.

How It Works

Ultrasounds use sound waves to create an image; they are also commonly referred to as sonograms for this reason.  Prior to your appointment, your doctor will instruct you to drink one or two glasses of water.  A full bladder reduces air in the abdominal region, allowing for clearer images.  Once you’ve been taken back to a private room, you’ll be asked to expose your belly, and lower your pants or skirt to the underwear line.  Then, a clear jelly is applied to your abdomen.  A transducer, which looks like a short rod is placed on the abdomen.  Then, it releases high-frequency sounds and records the echoes.  These echoes suggest the size and shape of your baby, as well as the shape and size of his or her organs.  The human ear cannot hear the high-frequency sounds, so the whole procedure is very quiet.  The transducer will be able to capture your baby’s heartbeat however, so be ready to be amazed!

The entire process occurs in real time, so as the transducer moves across the abdomen, a picture will appear on a computer screen.  The ultrasound pregnancy scan technician will typically pause several times during an ultrasound to capture a specific image for your doctor or midwife.

Who will be present?

If you’re going to an ultrasound alone, you’ll likely have two other people involved in the ultrasound: a technician and a doctor/midwife.  The technician will perform the actual sonogram, but the doctor will interpret the results.  Some doctors may conduct this test themselves while others will refer their patients to a specific facility specializing in ultrasound technology.  Technicians usually allow one to two additional people in the room while conducting an ultrasound.  And remember: if you want the baby’s sex to be a surprise, tell your technician before he or she begins so the computer screen can be turned away from you!

Prenatal sonograms are a safe procedure that can provide a wealth of information regarding the health and growth of your baby.  Over the past several years, many keepsake ultrasound pregnancy scan businesses have sprung up that offer parents picture and video packages of their unborn child.  It’s important to know that these businesses are not a substitute for prenatal sonograms; indeed, those performing ultrasounds as keepsakes will likely not be able to identify any problems.  Therefore, it’s important if you decide to visit a keepsake sonogram studio to do so in addition to a regular ultrasound facility.