If you have just learned that you're pregnant, you may be wondering about prenatal ultrasounds and their role in your pregnancy. Ultrasound is energy in the form of sound waves, which can be converted into visual images. A typical prenatal ultrasound exam, also called a pregnancy scan, provides information about the health and growth of the fetus. It also delights and reassures the parents-to-be, who may get their first moving glimpse of their little one.
When Will I Have a Pregnancy Ultrasound?
The number and timing of prenatal ultrasounds will be determined by your healthcare provider, based on your individual needs. Each woman and each woman's pregnancy is different, but most women will have at least one ultrasound exam at the midpoint of pregnancy, sometime between 16 and 20 weeks. At this mid-pregnancy scan, the technician will check your little one's growth, as well as the health and location of the placenta and the umbilical cord. This is also when you'll have the opportunity to find out the gender of your baby (only if you want to know, of course). This big gender-reveal moment is when many parents start thinking more seriously about baby names.
Some women will also have an earlier ultrasound exam, usually in their first trimester. This fetal ultrasound is conducted to check the heartbeat, to make sure the fetus is in the right location, to confirm the number of fetuses, and to assign an approximate due date. If you're curious about your due date before this scan, take a look at our due date calculator.
If you are carrying multiples, or if your doctor has other concerns, you might require more ultrasounds during your pregnancy.
What Types of Ultrasound Scans Are There?
Two-dimensional (2D) ultrasounds are the most common type of scans performed during pregnancy. The images produced show a grainy and flat image of your baby, and you may be able to take home a keepsake freeze-frame called a sonogram. These tests are often combined with the Doppler exam, where you can hear the baby's heartbeat.
Some women may have 3D or 4D ultrasound scans. which combine multiple 2D images taken at various levels. These are usually recommended for special circumstances, such as when a problem is suspected in the pregnancy.
How Are Ultrasound Scans Performed?
Ultrasounds are generally pain-free, although they can be a little uncomfortable. In a transabdominal scan, a cold gel is rubbed on your belly, and a wand called a transducer is moved across it. This wand emits sound waves that bounce off your little one, creating the image you see on a screen next to the bed. There are also vaginal ultrasound scans. For these exams, a wand, covered in a condom and lubricant, is placed into the vaginal cavity to check on the uterus.
Are Ultrasounds Safe?
Ultrasound scans are generally considered safe when performed for medical reasons by a qualified healthcare provider.
Ultrasounds provide an exciting view of the life growing inside you, and many parents-to-be find them reassuring. The good news is that you'll meet your little one face-to-face very soon.
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