The New Moms’ Guide To An Ultrasound Exam

ultrasound exam, what is an ultrasound, prenatal screening tests

There are a lot of things that aren’t exciting about being pregnant, but getting an ultrasound exam isn’t one of them! Ultrasound exams are one of the things an expecting mother can really look forward to. It’s your first chance to see your baby, to watch as they grow and gain vital information regarding the baby’s development, health, and sex!

Aside from being very exciting, ultrasound exams carry a crucial role in the wellbeing of you and your baby; and they help us prepare for what is to come — which is no easy task. Here’s everything you need to know about how ultrasounds work, and what to expect at your first, second, and third trimester exam.

What Is An Ultrasound

An ultrasound exam, also known as a sonogram, is an imaging procedure that uses high-frequency sound wave technology to create images of the patient’s internal organs. They are used for a variety of medical examinations, including the prenatal care of pregnant women.

During an ultrasound exam, your doctor or a skilled technician will scan your abdomen and pelvic area to create an image of the baby and the placenta in real time, which means you will be able to see your baby move and wiggle! The exam is painless, non-invasive, and involves no radiation.

First Trimester Ultrasound

Your first trimester ultrasound usually occurs once you are between 6 to 8 weeks pregnant. At this point in your pregnancy, your baby is still very small and difficult to actually examine with a regular ultrasound - also known as a transabdominal ultrasound - so instead, you will have a transvaginal ultrasound.

During your transvaginal first trimester ultrasound, your doctor will be able to:

  • Confirm pregnancy

  • Confirm heartbeat

  • Estimate baby’s age by measuring his/her length

  • Determine delivery date

  • Rule out tubal (ectopic) or molar pregnancy

Second Trimester Ultrasound

Your second trimester ultrasound usually occurs once you are between 18 to 20 weeks pregnant. At this point, the main objective is to perform a transabdominal ultrasound to get an anatomy scan of your developing baby. This ultrasound exam is super important and a very big deal.

During your transabdominal second trimester ultrasound, your doctor will be able to:

  • Check baby’s heart rate

  • Assess your baby’s growth

  • Look for proper organ development

  • Look for any birth defects and/or abnormalities in baby’s brain, heart, liver, and kidneys

  • Examine the placenta and measure the amniotic fluid level

  • Determine the baby’s sex

Third Trimester Ultrasound

Third trimester ultrasounds are not required, though sometimes they may be necessary. Some factors that may determine whether you will need a third trimester ultrasound include:

  • Low amniotic levels

  • Bleeding

  • Preterm contractions

  • Going past your due date

  • Being over 35

  • Issues concerning baby’s growth

  • If your second term ultrasound showed your cervix was covered by the placenta, in which case, if it is still there, you may need a C-section.

Needing a third trimester ultrasound may sound off alarms in your head, but it does not immediately signify there is something wrong. In many cases, third trimester ultrasounds are simply a precaution to ensure your baby is doing well!

Additional Prenatal Screening Tests

Aside from the regular trimester ultrasounds, you will probably be offered other prenatal screening tests involving ultrasounds.

The nuchal translucency (NT) test, for example, is an ultrasound offered to all women between 11 and 13 weeks. The ultrasound exam is used to evaluate the risk of your baby being born with Down Syndrome, trisomy 18 (another chromosomal abnormality), or certain heart defects.

If this screening test shows that your baby is at risk, you may be recommended to take an amniocentesis test between 14 and 20 weeks. This ultrasound-guided procedure takes a sample of your amniotic fluid to test whether your baby has a chromosomal abnormality, neural tube defect, or genetic disorders.

Additionally, if you develop gestational diabetes during your pregnancy, your doctor may recommend a Doppler ultrasound during your last weeks to measure blood flow and blood pressure reaching your baby.

More Information

Preparing to bring a child into the world is not an easy job, but by making sure you receive all the necessary prenatal screening tests and ultrasound exams you’re already doing a lot to prepare for your baby’s wellbeing. For more information on prenatal ultrasound exams, or where to go to get one, contact us or book an appointment.