Prenatal Ultrasounds Show Baby’s Heartbeat, Size, Gender, Brain Development

Prenatal ultrasounds
Close-up of woman looking at ultrasound image in her hands during her visit at hospital

Prenatal scans are life-saving

What are Ultrasounds, and how are the images formed?

Ultrasound is a type of diagnostic imaging in which high-frequency sound waves are used to create images. The ultrasound equipment uses the same kind of sound that bats use for echolocation. Sound is transmitted into the body and bounces off tissues until it reaches the surface, where a device can hear it called an ultrasound transducer. The transducer converts the sound into electrical signals sent to a computer or electronic display screen.

These images are created when the computer displays lines on the net that represent the speed at which sound travels through different tissue types. These lines appear darker than other areas because they reflect more sound energy. When viewed in color, the image appears as a black and white picture with bright dots representing sound energy reflecting from areas of faster-moving tissue such as blood cells. An abdominal ultrasound shows the size and
shape of organs like the liver and kidneys and the baby’s brain. It also may show fluid around the fetus.

In some cases, extra fluid may indicate a problem; however, this excess fluid does not always mean there is a problem. A fetal heart rate monitor attached to the mother’s abdomen will detect any changes in the baby’s heartbeat. This is essential information to know if you have had multiple miscarriages or experienced premature labor.

The most common reasons for having an ultrasound include:

• To determine whether your pregnancy is progressing normally.

• To check the size.

• To see if there is a problem.

• To find out the gender.

How do I prepare for my ultrasound?

You should eat lightly before the test. You don’t need to fast but try to avoid eating large meals one hour before the procedure. Drink plenty of water during the day, especially after breakfast. Try to get up about 30 minutes early, so you are ready when your doctor calls you to come in.

How many times do you get an ultrasound during pregnancy?

Most women receive their first prenatal ultrasound between 16 and 20 weeks of gestation. If you have been pregnant before, you may want to wait until at least 18 weeks to make sure everything is okay. Your doctor will perform amniocentesis to look for chromosomal abnormalities in both of you. This test takes 2-3 days and costs $500-$1000. After that, you will likely be offered a follow-up ultrasound within two weeks. If you are concerned about certain aspects of your anatomy, your doctor may order another ultrasound later in the pregnancy. At that point, you will also be able to speak with a genetic counselor to discuss any concerns regarding fetal development.

How long does the ultrasound take?

It usually only takes about 15 -20 minutes. However, it depends upon the number of ultrasounds performed. For example, if you are being evaluated for a suspected neural tube defect, you may require many examinations. Some special tests may last longer.

What happens during the ultrasound?

After you arrive at the clinic, you will be asked some questions about your medical history, including your medications. You will be given a gown to wear. Once you remove all jewelry, you will put on a hospital bracelet. You will be given paper slippers to change into and a cap to keep your hair away from the ultrasound machine. Then you will lie down on a table while your belly will be examined.

There are three main parts to the ultrasound examination:

1) Internal Exam / Palpation

Your doctor will feel your stomach using your hands. They will gently press on your abdomen to ensure it is soft. They will listen to your baby and feel the movements of the baby inside your uterus.

2) External Exam / Scanning

A technician will place an ultrasound probe over your skin. They will move it slowly around your abdomen, looking for the best view of your baby. If your doctor feels anything unusual, they may ask you to stand up and turn around. Another person
will hold your feet firmly to keep you steady. The probe will be moved again, looking for any abnormalities.

3) Doppler Studies

The technician can use an instrument called a “Doppler” or color flow meter to hear your baby’s heartbeat. It measures how much blood is moving through the vessels of your baby’s heart. These studies help determine whether your baby has a congenital heart disease such as coarctation of the aorta.

4) Fetal Movement Monitoring

An ultrasound machine emits a high-frequency sound wave into your uterus. This sound wave causes small ripples to form in the fluid inside your uterus. The sonoluminescent light emitted from the tiny bubbles gives off a glow that allows us to visualize your baby’s movements.

Fetal movement patterns change as your baby grows and develops. By measuring changes in fetal activity, we can tell if your baby is healthy and estimate gestational age. Using Doppler technology, we can also measure blood flow throughout your baby’s developing organs and tissues, including the brain.

Ultrasound equipment can be found at most hospitals. Some obstetricians prefer vaginal exams over abdominal scans since their patients are less likely to develop uterine contractions.

What are the risks associated with having an ultrasound?

Risks include bleeding, infection, fever, premature rupture of membranes, miscarriage, low birth weight, or stillbirth. There is no risk for carrying out an ultrasound when you are pregnant. Doctors often recommend this procedure because they do not know what else might be wrong with your baby. If you have had problems in previous pregnancies, you should tell your doctor.

Can you see your baby during the ultrasound?

No. During an internal exam, your doctor cannot touch your baby. The ultrasound images are displayed on a screen so your doctor can examine them closely. In addition, there are times when you can see the outline of your baby. Your doctor will talk to you about these occurrences.

Is there any radiation exposure involved with the ultrasound?

Yes. Since the machines used to create the pictures emit sound waves, there is always some radiation involved with each scan. When using the lowest level settings, the radiation dose is approximately 0.0005 millisieverts per scan. A typical chest x-ray delivers around 100 millisieverts of radiation. The amount of radiation received depends on many factors:

• How far the ultrasound beam travels.

• Whether you are standing or lying down.

• Whether you are holding your breath.

• Your age.

• Your gender.

• Ethnic background.

• Other things that affect the amount of radiation absorbed by your body.

• Where the area being scanned is located.

How many ultrasounds during pregnancy are too many?

Ideally, the number of ultrasounds you need decreases as your pregnancy progresses. However, if you experience complications, more ultrasounds may be necessary. You can discuss this issue with your healthcare provider at any time during your prenatal care visit.

What are the risks involved with fetal monitoring?

The following conditions can occur after an early ultrasound exam. These events are sporadic but can cause serious health problems in your baby.

1. Congenital malformations.

2. congenital disabilities.

3. Abnormal growth.

4. Low birth weight.

5. Prematurity.

6. Stillbirth.

7. Sudden infant death syndrome.

8. Miscarriage.

9. Infection.

10. Bleeding.


Thus a pregnancy ultrasound is beneficial in detecting various ailments associated with your body. These tests help us make and take the required measures to provide the necessary treatments or medicines needed to take care of the mother and the baby.


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