Ultrasound technology has meant expectant parents can get a small glimpse into their baby’s appearance before the big due date arrives. You may notice when your doctor is looking at the ultrasound that they’re doing so very intently. This is because doctors are visualizing an ultrasound not only to see your baby’s movements and development, but also for several other key factors.
Each obstetrician may have different protocols as to how many ultrasounds are performed. Sometimes, a doctor will recommend an ultrasound with each visit or sometimes at least twice during a pregnancy.
A doctor will typically perform at least a first-trimester ultrasound somewhere between the 12 and 14 weeks of pregnancy. At this time, your doctor is looking at the baby for signs of nuchal translucency. This area at the back of the neck is where fluid can build up. In babies who have certain chromosome defects, such as Down’s syndrome, the nuchal area may have a significant collection of fluid buildup. However, the scan is only an estimate. If your doctor suspects your baby may have an abnormality, further testing is usually recommended.
It’s possible that your doctor could recommend an ultrasound at six to seven weeks into your pregnancy. This is often via a transvaginal ultrasound instead of putting the ultrasound wand over your belly. Your baby is not usually big enough this early in your pregnancy to be easily visualized via an abdominal ultrasound. However, your doctor may use an early ultrasound to ensure your baby has implanted into the right location in your uterus. Otherwise, the pregnancy could be an ectopic one and will not develop further.
At about 18 to 20 weeks into your pregnancy, your obstetrician will often perform a second ultrasound. This one is often significantly more involved as your doctor is checking for the valves in your baby’s heart, presence of healthy kidney development, normal facial growth, and the all-important gender of your baby, if you wish to know. Often, ultrasound is accompanied by listening to fetal heart tones to ensure your baby’s heartbeat is strong and steady.
During the third trimester, your doctor may perform another ultrasound to ensure all is well with your baby’s growth and positioning. At this time, a doctor may be looking at the amount of fluid surrounding your baby to ensure there isn’t too much (or not enough). Your doctor is also looking to see if your baby is head down or if their head is pointed toward your chest, which is known as a breach position. Because you cannot safely deliver a baby vaginally in breech position, it’s important for your doctor to know where your baby is at.
The advent of 3-D and 4-D ultrasound technology mean that expectant parents, friends, and family can see a baby in much finer detail than ever before. While some doctors have these higher-tech imaging capabilities, other people go to ultrasound facilities to see the images of their little ones. However, it’s important to remember if you do go to an ultrasound facility that the personnel there are not doctors. Therefore, it’s possible they may not see a defect or other irregularity that a doctor might.