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For women expecting a child, the first ultrasound of a pregnancy is a big day. Known in medical terms as a prenatal ultrasound, this is the first chance for parents to learn the gender of their new baby (if they want to know, that is – some choose not to).
This is not the only purpose of the prenatal ultrasound, though. There are several other reasons for this test, many involving the health of the baby. The prenatal ultrasound can be a first line of defense against potential issues during pregnancy, and helps keep tabs on both the mother and her unborn baby. Let’s look at some of the basic details of prenatal ultrasounds.
An ultrasound test uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of some part of the body. It can be used for anything from bones and muscles to internal organs like the liver or kidney. Ultrasound tests don’t come with much or any risk, and don’t contain potentially harmful radiation like X-ray tests. The most common form of ultrasound is a prenatal ultrasound.
A prenatal ultrasound is usually ordered around 20 weeks into pregnancy, but it’s normal for women to have another ultrasound (or even several more) later in pregnancy as well. In the early stages, the prenatal ultrasound helps determine a few basic things, like a rough due date for the mother and the gender of the baby.
Other areas the prenatal ultrasound can help with include:
The process of the prenatal ultrasound is simple and painless. In some cases, a doctor will ask a mother to drink plenty of water before the test begins, to fill the bladder and help make it easier to see the baby on the ultrasound. One quick note: Before the ultrasound, women should be sure to let the doctor know whether they want to know the gender of the baby.
Once at the doctor’s office, the mother will lie on a table while a tiny bit of clear gel is spread on her stomach (this gel helps the accuracy of the ultrasound waves). From there, the doctor passes a transducer over the skin, sending ultrasound waves into the body. These waves bounce off solid objects (including the baby) and create a digital picture.
That’s about it. The gel for the stomach wipes off easily and doesn’t leave stains, and the entire process takes about half an hour. Unless there are any serious issues from the test, a mother can be out the door in no time. When there are issues picked up by the test, the doctor will discuss these on an individual basis with the patient.
Some types of prenatal ultrasounds allow for 3-D images, and others even create a moving image, or 4-D. For medical offices that have this technology and patients who can afford it (it’s not always covered by insurance), this can be a good way to get even more detail about the health of a baby.
Be careful with these tests, though. Many parents want them because they offer a way to see precious moments like a smile from the baby in the womb, but doctors don’t recommend getting tests only for this reason. If in doubt, talk to a doctor before ordering 3-D or 4-D prenatal ultrasounds.
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.