By Kelly Goede
A generation or two ago, a baby’s first picture would have to wait until his birthday, snapped on a Polaroid camera or captured on film. These days, once that line turns blue on the pregnancy test, a mama-to-be can see her baby before he even looks like one, thanks to ultrasound technology. Throughout a pregnancy, ultrasounds are used to assess the age, size and health of the baby, and can even capture a 3D image. So if you’re expecting, what can you expect in the way of ultrasounds?
An ultrasound is simply the use of high frequency sound waves to produce a picture on a monitor (sonogram). At the start of your pregnancy, perhaps when you aren’t even fully sure you are pregnant, a transvaginal ultrasound will assist your doctor in detecting and dating your pregnancy. The technician will insert a thin wand into your vagina and the pictures you see will most likely resemble a little blob or teeny alien-like baby if you are a little further along. Depending on how pregnant you are, the doctor will be looking for baby’s heartbeat and also measuring his size — and perhaps looking for twins. According to Whattoexpect.com, “a gestational sac can be visualized on ultrasound as early as four and a half weeks after your last period, [and] a heartbeat can be detected as early as five to six weeks (though it might not be detected that early in all cases).”
As your pregnancy progresses, your doctor will be following your progress through a variety of measurements, including your blood pressure, weight, the height of the fundus (top of the uterus), and may use a Doppler to listen to the baby’s heartbeat.
Once you reach 18 to 20 weeks in your pregnancy, it will be time for an anatomy scan, also called a level 2 ultrasound. This time around, the ultrasound technician or your doctor will be using a transducer to glide across your belly, which will be covered in a thin layer of gel. According to Sarah W. Caron at Sheknows.com, you may be asked to have a full bladder, which will help push your uterus out
of the pelvis and assist your doctor in visualizing all the parts of your baby as well as the umbilical cord, amniotic sac, placenta and uterus. Your doctor will be
looking at the size of the baby, checking for birth defects, examining the anatomy and, if baby cooperates, you’ll find out the gender! Although this ultrasound will yield more “baby-looking” pictures on the screen, you may find you are still viewing black and white shapes while the doctor examines each of the organs and systems.
Depending on your unique situation, your doctor may call for additional ultrasounds during the later parts of your pregnancy. Sometimes mamas who are considered of advanced maternal age (over age 35) will be offered additional testing, including ultrasounds, which will take a closer look for abnormalities. And certainly, if your doctor has deemed your pregnancy high-risk for any reason, you will be monitored more closely. The most important thing is to speak to your doctor about any questions and concerns; they are your best resource.