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What to Expect When You Get an Ultrasound

by R. Carnavale | June 7th, 2012 | Pregnancy

When you are pregnant, your physician may order an ultrasound exam (also known as a sonogram) to get a picture of your unborn baby. Many women have ultrasounds during the first or second trimester. Ultrasounds help physicians monitor your pregnancy in the following ways:

  • determine how your pregnancy is progressing
  • date the pregnancy
  • identify where the baby is located (to rule out an ectopic pregnancy)
  • detect multiple babies
  • determine the gender of your baby
  • measure cervical length
  • detect some types of birth defects like heart problems, spinal cord abnormalities, and Down syndrome
  • assist with another test (for instance, with amniocentesis, to help guide the needle)

Many physicians will order two or more ultrasound scans during a pregnancy. The first one is done early on in your pregnancy to determine your baby’s gestational age. The second scan is usually done at the 18- to 20-week mark to determine your baby’s size and to look for birth defects.Be sure to verify that your insurance plan covers two ultrasound scans because some insurance companies only cover one.

An ultrasound scan is painless, uses sound waves to make a two- or three-dimensional picture of your unborn baby, and usually takes just 15-20 minutes. Depending upon your doctor’s orders, the ultrasound scan will be performed either on your abdomen or inside your vagina.For an ultrasound early in your pregnancy, you will need to drink a lot of water before the exam, because a full bladder pushes the baby up into a good position for viewing and the water in your bladderis a good conduit for the ultrasound equipment. For scans later in your pregnancy, you probably won’t need to drink as much water because your baby will already be high enough and the amniotic fluidwill bethe conduit.

During the ultrasound, you will lie face-up on an exam table while the ultrasound technologist or radiologist sits next to you and uses a transducer (it looks like a microphone) and a video display screen to take images of your baby. The technologist will apply a clear, water-based gel to the area that’s being scanned and then press the transducer firmly against your skin for a few minutes. The transducer will send inaudible sound waves into your body and then “listen” for returning echoes from your baby’s body.Once the technologist has the images, the gel will be wiped off and a radiologist will review the images and send them to your physician.You, too, will get copies of the images, which you can then share with family and friends.

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