During pregnancy, your obstetrician will order or perform routine ultrasounds for a number of reasons, but they are done primarily to assess the growth and development of your baby. Ultrasound may be used from the fifth gestational (pregnancy) week until delivery, and the number of ultrasounds that you will receive during your pregnancy will depend on your individual circumstances.
Ultrasound is considered the safest and easiest way to monitor the health of pregnant women and their unborn babies, largely because it does not use radiation. Rather, it uses sound waves to produce pictures on a nearby video monitor of the developing baby and the surrounding pelvic organs of the mother.
A pelvic or transabdominal ultrasound involves using a small probe applied directly onto the skin of the woman’s abdomen. The abdomen is first lubricated with gel in order to make it easy to move the transducer smoothly over the area. The ultrasound device then transmits high-frequency sound waves into the body and collects the sounds that bounce back as images in real time.
A transvaginal ultrasound may be necessary in very early pregnancy, or when your obstetrician has difficulty obtaining a clear picture. This involves inserting an ultrasound transducer wand directly into the vagina.
Common Uses of an Obstetric Ultrasound
In early pregnancy, an obstetrical ultrasound can be used to confirm a healthy pregnancy, diagnose multiple pregnancies (twins, triplets, etc.) if applicable, and to estimate the age of the fetus. The baby’s heart may be seen beating during an ultrasound scan as early as six weeks after conception. An early ultrasound may also be used to check for ectopic pregnancy, sources of bleeding, or signs of miscarriage.
As your baby develops, ultrasounds can be used to evaluate the size and position of the baby in the womb, and to assess for any congenital or developmental abnormalities, such as Down’s syndrome. The condition and location of the placenta and the amount of amniotic fluid is also monitored via ultrasound.
In time, an ultrasound may show the sex of the baby, and you may be able to see your baby move, breathe, suck their thumb, and even hiccup. Prior to delivery, an ultrasound scan can check for opening or shortening of the cervix (dilation) and confirm the position of the baby and the umbilical cord in order to help plan a safe birth.
How Many Scans Will I Have?
The number of ultrasounds that you have during your pregnancy depends on several factors, including whether the pregnancy is deemed high-risk, or if there is a medical reason for further scans such as bleeding or cramping. Some doctors choose to perform screening ultrasounds, while others perform ultrasounds only when a problem is suspected.
Women with a high-risk pregnancy typically undergo more ultrasounds than those with a low-risk pregnancy. High-risk pregnancies can include mothers with pre-existing medical conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, kidney problems, cancer, substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, or HIV/AIDS.
Conditions that may develop during pregnancy can also make a pregnancy high-risk, such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, eclampsia, multiple fetuses, or preterm labor. Also, if there have been problems with previous pregnancies, extra scans may be recommended.
Comprehensive Women’s Healthcare in Syracuse
If you are looking for experienced and compassionate obstetric care throughout your pregnancy and beyond, come and see one of our excellent obstetricians at University OB/GYN Associates. We cover the full breadth of women’s healthcare and provide obstetrical and gynecological healthcare throughout all stages of life.
If you have any questions or would like to make an appointment, call University OB/GYN Associates today at (315) 464-5162. We look forward to being your healthcare partner!