What Happens During a Typical Ultrasound Appointment

January 7, 2021

Anticipation and excitement are inevitable parts of pregnancy. As a parent, there is so much about your baby that you're looking forward to discovering. From the baby's features to gender, many parents are eager to know.

Luckily, scanning techniques such as ultrasound have advanced greatly, allowing you to take a look inside the womb and learn about your little one's well being. However, an ultrasound is much more just a medical test. It not only can make you feel nervous or excited but also cause a flood of emotions.

That is why it is important to know what to expect during a typical ultrasound appointment so that you can keep your nerves calm and enjoy it.  Although your doctor usually performs the first ultrasound to confirm pregnancy, there is a lot more than the procedure can reveal in the later stages.

If you're expecting your first baby and the thought of having an ultrasound dreads you, here is everything you need to know.

What is an Ultrasound and How Doctors Do It

A prenatal ultrasound is a scan that uses sound waves and creates a fetus's visual image, uterus, and placenta during pregnancy. It enables your gynecologist to accumulate valuable information on the progress of baby, pregnancy, and most importantly, the baby's health.

It is a relatively short process in which a technician or sonographer attached handheld equipment known as a transducer to a pregnant woman's uterus. The transducer sends sound waves that bounce off the Baby. A programmed instrument translates these echoing waves into visual images to reveal the baby's position, movement, and shape.

A medical professional scanning a pregnant belly with an ultrasound wand

Medical practitioners use these ultrasound waves in handheld instrument "Doppler" during prenatal visits of expectant mothers to listen to the heartbeat of the baby.

What to Expect When You Have an Ultrasound

You can expect your doctor to perform your first ultrasound during the first trimester to not only confirm pregnancy but also assess how far along you're. In many cases, doctors don't perform a standard mid-pregnancy sonogram until 18 to 22 weeks of pregnancy.

This is also when you can learn about the gender of your baby (if you want). You may have a grainy printout of the ultrasound as a keepsake.

Many doctors recommend keeping the sonogram safe as a part of your genetic tests, such as chorionic villus sampling, nuchal translucency test, and amniocentesis. They can help you determine the signs of any complications with the Baby. 

Keep in mind that if you have any underlying medical condition such as hypertension and diabetes, your doctor might ask you to have an ultrasound frequently.

What Happens During a Typical Ultrasound Appointment?

When scheduling your first appointment, ask your doctor if he/she will conduct an ultrasound. However, if you're six or ten weeks pregnant, you will likely have an ultrasound. Most medical professionals have an ultrasound instrument in their office.

An ultrasound technician puts some gel on a transducer (ultrasound device) during an ultrasound and moves it in a circular motion across the belly. The transducer sends off or releases electronic sound waves to help the fetus bounce off its fluids, tissues, and bones. These waves make a visual of the fetus in the womb. A video screen (attached to the transducer) shows all this process to parents.

Note that your ultrasound technician will ask you to undress from the waist and put your feet on stirrups. You might feel like you're undergoing a pelvic exam, but the position is important for the transducer to move easily and cover the whole belly. The technician also covers the transducer with lubricant and a broad condom-like sheath before putting it inside the vagina.

The process doesn't take longer than 10 to 15 minutes, and it is important to give your gynecologist crucial information about the growing baby in your womb. Also, it is completely safe and involves no risks. It is also useful for discovering early pregnancy problems such as cysts or other fetus developmental issues.

What information does Your Doctor Get from an Ultrasound?

A doctor discussing an ultrasound with a patient

 If you're having a mid-pregnancy sonogram, it allows your medical practitioner to:

Check Heartbeat of Your Baby

During an ultrasound, your doctor measures and assesses the number of heartbeats per minute of your baby to ensure it is normal.

Measure the size of the Baby

When it comes to measuring Baby's size, a sonographer can measure several things to make sure your baby is growing normally.  He measures the skull size, thighbone, and abdomen to ensure that it is appropriate according to the baby's age.

If the Baby's size is smaller or bigger than two weeks during the first ultrasound, it means that your due date may extend. If your doctor concerns your baby's growth, he/she may recommend more follow-up sonograms.

Check placenta's location

Placenta's location is key information an ultrasound can provide to your doctor. If your placenta covers the Previa or cervix, it may cause bleeding in later stages of pregnancy. The condition requires more follow-up scans in the third trimester to check the position of the placenta.

However, there is no need to panic as only a small percentage of women facing this issue before 20 weeks of their pregnancy may have some complications.

Check Physical Abnormalities of the Baby

Your doctor looks closely at your baby's basic anatomy that includes the size of the neck, heart, chest, kidneys, bladders, stomach, and arms. He/she also assesses the umbilical cord to ensure that it is developing properly.

If your first-trimester screening or multiple markers show suspicious results or anything causing concern, the sonographer does a thorough scan (level II). It helps him evaluate the signs of any congenital disability, such as Down syndrome.

Summing Up

All in all, an ultrasound is an important screening test and is an integral part of early parental medical assessment. It can reveal a lot about your pregnancy. Thus, the given details are helpful to understand the procedure better so that you can enjoy peeking at your baby's first glance.

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