Foetal ultrasound, also known as pregnancy sonography or pregnancy ultrasound, is a procedure in which sound waves are used to generate the pictures of the developing foetus (baby) in the womb (uterus).
Ultrasound examinations are mainly of two types: transabdominal and transvaginal. Doctors usually choose the type of ultrasound to be used based on the stage and condition of the pregnancy.
Here, you can find information on the various types of ultrasound imaging, how they work, and what to expect during an ultrasound appointment.
An ultrasound is a process in which sound waves are used to produce the pictures of a baby while it is still inside a mother’s womb (uterus). While performing the pregnancy scan, a gel is applied to the stomach, and a probe known as a transducer is positioned against the skin. The probe then sends sound wave pulses to the baby, generating echoes that are subsequently converted into images by the computer. These images are seen on a monitor.
In some cases, the doctor may suggest a transvaginal ultrasound scan to obtain better images of the foetus. This can only be executed with the mother’s permission. In this particular instance, the mother will be draped with a sheet, and the probe will be advanced into her vagina and moved inside the vagina to get pictures of the baby. It may be a little uncomfortable, however, it should not hurt.
Types of pregnancy ultrasounds
Foetal ultrasounds are of two main types:
- Transvaginal ultrasound
Transvaginal ultrasounds are also known as endovaginal ultrasounds by some.
This type of foetal ultrasound test is performed internally by sonographers. They insert a probe (a transducer) into the vagina, which generates detailed pictures of the pelvic area by emitting sound waves.
During the first trimester, sonographers typically perform transvaginal ultrasounds. Transvaginal ultrasounds may be recommended by medical professionals when a transabdominal ultrasound is insufficient.
- Transabdominal ultrasound
The ultrasound technician moves a transducer (probe) over the abdomen during a transabdominal foetal ultrasound.
The transabdominal ultrasound scan is a less invasive method of viewing foetal development and abdominal organs than the transvaginal ultrasound, according to a 2020 study.
Ultrasound machines have a variety of features, which allow their use to perform a variety of tasks, including:
- 3D ultrasounds: These scans detect a baby’s growth by using high-frequency sound waves. Some doctors utilise them to detect uterine anomalies.
- Doppler ultrasound: This ultrasound focuses the sound waves on small changes in motion. Doppler ultrasound can be used to obtain information about the baby’s blood circulation.
- Foetal echocardiography: This technique creates a distinct picture of the baby’s heart, allowing doctors to help identify heart problems.
Reasons to get a pregnancy ultrasound
Ultrasounds are generally positive experiences in most pregnancies, and doctors find no problems; however, this might not be the case sometimes, and your doctor may suspect birth defects or other issues with the pregnancy during an ultrasound session.
A prenatal ultrasound is conducted for two main tasks:
- To evaluate the baby’s well-being, growth, and development
- TO help detect certain medical conditions and pregnancy complications
Moreover, an ultrasound is a safe, convenient, and accessible test that can give you and your medical team more information regarding your unborn baby and pregnancy, which can help guide your care.
Depending on the number of weeks of your pregnancy and the ultrasound type you are going to have, it can:
- Confirm that the pregnancy is viable (this means everything appears to be going well and that your foetus’s heart is beating properly).
- Assess if you have multiple pregnancies (such as twins or triplets).
- Aid in the estimation of the due date and age of the baby.
- Help determine if your baby’s organs are developing properly or check for any foetal abnormalities.
- Confirm the position of your baby in your uterus.
- Examine the length of the cervix.
- Examine your placenta’s location.
- Examine your baby’s health and wellbeing.
- Examine your baby’s development and size.
- Check the status of your amniotic fluid (too much or too little).
Getting ready for an ultrasound
There are various ways of preparing for an ultrasound scan.
For example, most women will undergo a transvaginal ultrasound in their first trimester. This type requires an empty bladder to assist the sonographer in forming a clear picture of the foetus (unborn baby).
Transabdominal ultrasounds, on the other hand, necessitate a full bladder. This may necessitate a person to drink plenty of water prior to the exam.
Sonographers tend to prefer an empty bladder for all ultrasound examinations during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy.
What to expect during an ultrasound
A person undergoing a pregnancy ultrasound scan will lie on an examination bed. Based on the kind of scan, the ultrasound technician will apply a gel (a water-based lubricant) to the abdomen or in the vagina. This gel aids the passage of sound waves through the body.
The sonographer would then move a probe around the abdomen to take photos on the video screen.
Based on the objective of the scan, the sonographer may measure the pictures displayed on the monitor.
If the pictures are clear, the ultrasound technician will remove the gel, and the person will be free to go. If the ultrasound is not clear, the ultrasound technician can conduct additional scans.
How many ultrasounds will you have during your pregnancy?
Most pregnant women may undergo one or two ultrasound scans during their pregnancy; however, the timing and number differ based on your doctor and whether or not you have any medical conditions. If your pregnancy is high risk, or if your doctor thinks your baby or you have a health problem, they may recommend frequent ultrasounds.
Is it safe to perform an ultrasound scan every month during pregnancy?
While ultrasound scans are safe for both you and your baby, the majority of major medical associations advise that ultrasounds be performed only when medically necessary by pregnancy care providers. Repeat ultrasounds are not necessary if your ultrasound scans are normal and you have an uncomplicated or low-risk pregnancy.
Will an ultrasound scan be harmful or hurt the baby?
Ultrasound is a painless and safe test, with no increased likelihood of miscarriage or injury to your baby. The sound waves that are used are of very low frequency, so they will not harm you or your baby, and they will not be audible to your baby.
How long will an ultrasound scan take?
A scan generally takes between 20 and 30 minutes; however, if your baby is moving around a lot or lying in an unusual position, the ultrasound technician may not be able to obtain clear images.
If getting a good image is difficult, the scan might take longer than expected or even have to be repeated.
Is prenatal ultrasound dangerous?
Every medical procedure carries some level of risk; however, there is no evidence that a properly performed prenatal ultrasound will hurt or harm an unborn child or the mother. Moreover, ultrasound, unlike other procedures including X-rays, does not use radiation.
What happens next if everything appears to be normal?
The majority of the scan results reveal that the baby has no issues and is developing normally. This is due to the fact that the majority of babies are healthy. You can continue your regular antenatal care.
What happens if the scan reveals that your baby seems to have a condition?
If the scan indicates that the baby seems to be suffering from a condition, the ultrasound technician may seek a second viewpoint from some other team members. You may be offered further testing to figure out whether or not the baby really has the condition.
If you are prescribed additional testing, you will be provided with further details about it so that you can make a decision on whether or not to take it. You can talk about it with your healthcare professional.
If needed, you would be directed to a specialist, who may be located in a different hospital.
Can the sex of the baby be determined?
Prenatal sex determination and sex-selective abortions are prohibited in India under the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act of 1994, which was enacted to prevent female foeticide and gender discrimination.
As a result, unless there is a medical necessity, it is not legal in India to find out the gender of your baby. Ultrasound scans are permitted during pregnancy for medical reasons only, and the sex of the baby is not revealed during these scans.
A note by LivLong
A pregnancy ultrasound might be both thrilling and terrifying. Ultrasound is used by your pregnancy care doctor to gain a better understanding as to how your baby is developing and growing. There are multiple types of ultrasound scans, and the frequency will depend on your provider. The majority of pregnant women have two ultrasounds, one during their first trimester and another in the second. If there is a possible complication or a medical reason for additional ultrasound imaging, your doctor will request additional ones as a precaution.