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Pregnancy Ultrasounds: How Many and What Happens

It may come as a surprise to you, but most women only need a few ultrasounds during a healthy pregnancy. These are an important part of your prenatal exams, but more than a few spaced out ultrasounds are only needed in special cases. Doctors can discover a lot about your pregnancy from an ultrasound, as can you!

Ultrasounds are a monumental moment for expectant parents because it means they will get to see their unborn baby and learn more about its health, growth, due date, determine whether they’re carrying multiple babies, and figure out the baby’s sex. Let’s take a look at how many ultrasounds you should expect and when you should be scheduling them for.

Understanding Ultrasounds

In case you aren’t familiar with what an ultrasound is, an ultrasound is a machine that uses a plastic transducer to transmit high-frequency sound waves and receives signals back to convert into images of your uterus. This test is non-intrusive and doesn’t hurt a bit! It may feel cold and be a little messy from the gel used on your belly, but that’s about it. It is also very safe for your baby — there is no radiation involved, and there is no danger from repeated ultrasounds over the course of your pregnancy.

Many women want to get an ultrasound as soon as they find out they’re pregnant, but there isn’t much to see for the first few weeks of your pregnancy. Your pregnancy can’t even be reliably seen until at least 4 weeks, and even then it will probably only look like a little fluid filled sac where your baby will start to grow. You can start to see your baby at around 6-7 weeks of growth, and the heartbeat after about 7 weeks. Even then, your baby won’t look like much — just a little bean. Around 13 weeks of pregnancy, your little one will have developed enough to look like a baby.

How Many Ultrasounds to Expect During Your Pregnancy

Although the number of ultrasounds varies for each woman based on her health and pregnancy, you can usually expect three or more. Here are some that you may be able to expect.

The Early Pregnancy Ultrasound: Weeks 6-12

Your early pregnancy ultrasound will most likely be between weeks 6 and 12. This ultrasound can be considered a bit intrusive as it’s different from a normal ultrasound. In this case, the doctor may need to conduct a transvaginal ultrasound, which means they will place a thin wand-like transducer probe into your vagina that transmits high-frequency sound waves through your uterus. The reason this is done is because your baby is so small, it may not be visible on an abdominal ultrasound.

Your doctor will also be able to use this ultrasound to predict your baby’s due date, determine the number of babies in your womb, and ensure that you don’t have an ectopic pregnancy.

The Nuchal Translucency Ultrasound: Weeks 10-14

The nuchal translucency ultrasound is not a routine ultrasound, but rather is a screening test for potential problems. This test is done between weeks 10 and 14, and it checks for Down Syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities. It measures a fluid collection at the back of your baby’s neck: this is normal! Every baby has this, and the test is to ensure that this collection is not enlarged. A blood draw can be done simultaneously to measure certain analytes in mom’s blood, and this helps to increase the accuracy of the test.

Anatomical Survey: Weeks 18-20

This is a detailed ultrasound that is usually between weeks 18 and 20 of your pregnancy. This is considered to be the most thorough checkup your baby will have before it is born, and your appointment can last anywhere between 20 minutes to an hour.

Your doctor will check your baby’s heart rate as well as the function and size of your baby’s heart, brain, kidneys, and liver. The doctor will also count your baby’s fingers and toes, examine your baby for any birth defects, examine the placenta, and check your amniotic fluid level.

This is also the ultrasound at which you can usually determine the sex of your baby! This isn’t always possible depending on the baby’s position in your womb, but typically this is an exciting appointment for expectant parents.

Ultrasounds During the Third Trimester

Any ultrasounds during the third trimester are usually only ordered if you have a high-risk pregnancy, if your doctor wants to check on your baby’s growth, or if something from your anatomical survey appointment that needs follow up. Most expectant mothers won’t need ultrasounds in their third trimester. If you do have any though, it’s because your doctors want to keep an eye on things and ensure that you and your baby are progressing healthily.

Doppler Fetal Monitoring

Doppler ultrasounds are a special test ordered for certain high risk conditions. This ultrasound helps to measure the blood flow through the placenta and the umbilical cord. This is a measure of placental function and can help predict the health of your pregnancy.

Ultrasounds and Safety

Whenever you decide to schedule ultrasounds, make sure it is with a technician who was educated in obstetrical ultrasound accredited by the American Institute of Ultrasound Medicine. This will usually include any technicians within doctor’s offices or medical facilities. Ultrasounds are only considered safe for medical purposes and should never be done by anyone besides a certified medical professional who knows what they’re doing. They will know how many ultrasounds are appropriate for your unique pregnancy.

Are you looking for a qualified medical professional to handle your ultrasounds? Contact us today to set up a consultation!

Learn more about Pregnancy Health