Ultrasound is an important tool to help patients and doctors navigate through pregnancy. The clinical use of ultrasound in pregnancy began in the 1970s. Initially, its usefulness was limited. However, the technology rapidly improved and now it is difficult to imagine not having this remarkable window into a developing pregnancy.

Not only is ultrasound an important medical tool, it is often one of the aspects of prenatal care that parents-to-be most look forward to. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about the use of ultrasound during pregnancy.

When will I have an ultrasound during my pregnancy?

A first trimester ultrasound is sometimes important for confirming the gestational age of a pregnancy. If a woman is uncertain of her last menstrual period, ultrasound is an accurate way of determining the due date. It also allows early identification of multiple pregnancies (twins, triplets).

At the end of the first trimester (11-13 weeks) some expectant parents choose to use ultrasound as part of a screening process to identify pregnancies at higher risk for chromosome abnormalities, such as Down syndrome. This process can help parents to feel comfortable with the choice to forego or choose further testing, such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling, for a definitive diagnosis.

At about 20 weeks in pregnancy, a thorough anatomy ultrasound is done to screen for developmental problems, such as heart defects or kidney problems. This detailed exam usually takes 30 to 60 minutes. Although this ultrasound is detailed, some types of developmental problems cannot be picked up with this exam. So although a “normal” ultrasound is reassuring, it isn’t a guarantee of a “normal” baby. The gender of your baby can usually be determined at this visit and we are happy to share that with those who want to know.

There are no more “routine” ultrasounds during the remainder of pregnancy; however, it is not unusual to use ultrasound to answer specific questions, such as: Is the baby growing at a normal pace? Is the placenta in the right place? What position is the baby in?, etc.

Is ultrasound safe for me and my baby, even if used multiple times?

Many studies have been done to look at this question and the results are very reassuring. When used properly there is no evidence that ultrasound causes harm to a baby, either during pregnancy or later in childhood. Women’s Healthcare Associates is accredited by and follows the safety guidelines set by the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine. This includes avoiding unnecessary exposure of developing babies to ultrasound energy, remembering that it is a diagnostic medical tool and should be used accordingly.

What about 3D ultrasound?

You may have heard about 3D ultrasound as an emerging technology. The pictures obtained with 3D are more lifelike and can be very exciting for expectant parents. However, as of now there is limited clinical usefulness for 3D ultrasound and it is not standardly performed. This, of course, may change in the future.

Ultrasound is an indispensable tool during pregnancy that we now rely heavily upon. It is a safe tool for moms and babies when used according to safety guidelines. It can also promote early bonding of parents with their yet to be born child, which is great for everyone.

Read more about ultrasound services at Women’s Healthcare Associates.