Find Out The Basics Of Ultrasound, Including How It Shows Us Fetal Development

Little feet, beating heart, wiggly waves…almost any expecting parent (and families and friends) can tell you that the anticipation to see their bun in the oven make his or her onscreen debut is almost unbearable! The baby’s first ultrasound typically occurs around 18-20 weeks gestation, but some lucky parents get to peek in on their baby-to-be earlier depending on doctor, insurance, and circumstances. Find out what to expect at an ultrasound and what your doctor will be looking for as far as your baby's development.
Michelle Bruns Maffei

Regardless of how early you get to see your baby’s precious profile and awe at every stretch of those tiny arms, the mid-pregnancy ultrasound is more important than you may think.

Fetal Anomaly Survey
Formally called the Fetal Anomaly Survey, high-frequency sound waves can be bounced off of tissues and converted into a picture called a sonogram, or ultrasound. The reason for the wait until the mid-pregnancy mark because it is most optimal, says Gary L. Rose, M.D., Radiologist of Washington Radiology Associates. “…20 weeks…is an optimal time of the pregnancy for evaluating the fetus because the structures in the fetus are now large enough to [evaluate].” So, practice your patience because more and more insurances are only covering the necessary times for this procedure.

Reasons behind testing
Although most people think of it as the chance to find out the gender of their pea in the pod, doctors use these sound waves to see much more. According to Dr. Terry Hoffman of Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, “Fetal Anomaly US were originally done to assess all major organs and body parts for anomalies, both major and minor.” Sound less warm and fuzzy than you expected? It doesn’t change the fact that an ultrasound can have a dual-purpose. Dr. Hoffman adds, “The studies do show that these sonograms, when normal, are reassuring to the patient (and the physician) and allow for better bonding of both the mother and father to the baby.” And, every expecting parent could use a little extra helping of reassurance!

What they’re looking for
More specifically, ultrasounds can give doctors insight to your little one inside your belly. MD Radiologist Dr. Michael Applebaum explains some of the medical reasons an ultrasound is performed:

  • Evaluation of a fetus in a mother-to-be who is "too young" to be "routinely" offered an amniocentesis/genetic testing
  • Further investigation of an abnormal blood test performed as a screen for fetal abnormalities
  • Detection of certain abnormalities that may be incompatible with life outside the uterus
  • Adjustment period is available if a problem is noted, leaving time for counseling to assist decision-making, to establish a support group, or to coordinate specialists who may be needed in the delivery room

2D, 3D, 4D: What’s the difference?
Think of a 2D ultrasound as a look into the inside of your growing fetus. This black and gray image of your little one is what is used to assess the structure, organs, and growth at your routine ultrasound. This is also the type of ultrasound they use for gender determination.

The 3D ultrasound gives onlookers a peek at what the growing baby looks like on the outside. Not all just for show and tell, this 3D technology may also help doctors and radiologists determine things like a cleft lip which may not be visible through a 2D ultrasound.

The 4D ultrasound is a moving version of the 3D. Think of it as your baby’s first home movie! As he kicks, sucks his thumb and hams it up for the camera, you’ll get a live picture of his facial expressions the whole way through.

Ultrasounds can be a wealth of information, and reassurance, for doctors and parents to be alike. So, let’s hope the little bundle of wonder in your womb has perfected his smile…he’s about to get his first close-up!



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