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What is prenatal ultrasound?
Like other ultrasound examinations, prenatal or fetal ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to obtain images of the fetus, placenta, and amniotic sac in a pregnant woman. The test does not involve radiation and is completely safe for both mother and baby. An ultrasound examination is also known as a sonogram. The entire procedure can be performed in 30 minutes or less. Two types of ultrasound exams are used in pregnancy.
Two types of ultrasound exams are used in pregnancy. The most common is a transabdominal ultrasound, in which the measuring instrument (transducer) is moved over the surface of the abdomen after a gel has been applied. Sometimes a full bladder is required to obtain better images, so you may be asked to drink several glasses of water before the test. There is no pain or discomfort associated with the test, and it can be performed in the doctor's office.
Transvaginal ultrasound uses a probe that is inserted directly into the vagina. It is performed in the doctor's office similar to a pelvic examination. This type of exam is most commonly used in the early weeks of pregnancy to rule out suspected problems or to assess the gestational age of the embryo. In early pregnancy this examination can provide more accurate information then a transabdominal examination.
Why is prenatal ultrasound performed?
As mentioned above, transvaginal ultrasound is most often used in the early weeks of pregnancy to rule out problems or to determine how far along you are in the pregnancy. Most pregnant women receive a transabdominal ultrasound around the 20th week of pregnancy. This exam confirms that the baby is growing normally and that the placenta is attached normally. The heartbeat of the fetus is visible, and the movement of the fetus can be observed. Major birth defects can be visualized by this method, as well. In most cases, it is possible to determine the sex of the baby through an ultrasound exam at 20 weeks, but this method is not 100% accurate. You can tell the examiner whether or not you wish to know the gender of your baby at the time of the examination.
Ultrasound may also be performed earlier or later in the pregnancy for specific reasons that include:
- Determination of multiple gestation
- Ensuring the health of the baby and monitoring its growth
- Determining the location of the placenta
- Estimation of gestational age and due date
- Assessing the expected size and weight of the baby
- Determining the amount of amniotic fluid
- Determining the position of the baby
What are 3D and 4D ultrasound?
A 3D ultrasound provides a particularly clear image that resembles a photograph. A so-called 4D ultrasound provides this image in real time. Sometimes these ultrasound images are offered by non-medical providers in stores or other locations. Medical authorities, including The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Food and Drug Administration do not recommend using these services because the examiners may not have received proper training and could provide inaccurate information.
Are there risks associated with prenatal ultrasound?
As mentioned before, there is no radiation exposure during a prenatal ultrasound. Ultrasound exams have been used for many years, and studies have never shown any harms associated with the procedure, either on a short- or long-term basis.
Quick GuideEarly Signs & Symptoms of Pregnancy
Pregnancy and Parenting Resources
"Ultrasound During Pregnancy." March of Dimes. Updated Oct. 2014.
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- distinctive facial features,
- growth retardation, and
- decreased mental function and IQ.
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Fetal DevelopmentTake a peek inside the womb to see the stages of fetal development. Learn how embryos develop and grow during pregnancy. See month by month ultrasound images of your baby in the womb.
Fetal Movement: Feeling Baby Kick Week-by-WeekPregnancy can be one of the most joyous time in a couples life. Learn what your baby's first movements may feel like week by week, how often you may feel them, what time of day the baby is most active, and what to do if you feel your baby is not moving as much as you feel it should be moving.
Signs and symptoms of pregnancy vary by stage (trimester). The earliest pregnancy symptom is typically a missed period, but others include
breast swelling and tenderness,
- nausea and sometimes vomiting,
- fatigue, and
Second trimester symptoms include
- weight gain,
- itching, and
- possible stretch marks.
Third trimester symptoms are
- additional weight gain,
- swelling of the ankles,
- fingers, and face,
- breast tenderness, and
- trouble sleeping.
Eating a healthy diet, getting a moderate amount of exercise, also are recommended for a healthy pregnancy. Information about the week by week growth of your baby in the womb are provided.
Pregnancy: Multiple Births, Twins, Triplets, and MoreMultiple births occur when a woman bears twins, triplets, or even more babies during pregnancy. More multiples are born today thanks to assisted reproductive technology (ART), including in vitro fertilization using fertility drugs. Women carrying multiples often give birth via C-section.
Pregnancy Planning (Preparing for Pregnancy)
Pregnancy planning is an important step in preparation for starting or expanding a family. Planning for a pregnancy includes:
- Taking prenatal vitamins
- Eating healthy for you and your baby
- Disease prevention (for both parents and baby) to prevent birth defects and infections
- Avoiding certain medications that may be harmful to your baby
- How much weight gain is healthy
- Exercise safety and pregnancy
- Travel during pregnancy
Pregnancy: Bleeding During the First Trimester
Bleeding during pregnancy is never normal. Causes of bleeding during the first trimester of a pregnancy may be caused by implantation bleeding, ectopic or tubal pregnancy, subchorionic hemorrhaging, infections, and miscarriage. Bleeding during the 2nd and 3rd trimesters of pregnancy can be caused by a variety of factors.
Stages of PregnancySee pictures on the various stages of pregnancy. See and learn what changes a woman's body goes through and view fetal images of how her baby grows during the 1st, 2nd and 3rd trimesters.
Symptoms of Serious Diseases and Health ProblemsLearn how to recognize early warning signs and symptoms of serious diseases and health problems, for example, chronic cough, headache, chest pain, nausea, stool color or consistency changes, heartburn, skin moles, anxiety, nightmares, suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, delusions, lightheadedness, night sweats, eye problems, confusion, depression, severe pelvic or abdominal pain, unusual vaginal discharge, and nipple changes.
The symptoms and signs of serious health problems can be caused by strokes, heart attacks, cancers, reproductive problems in females (for example, cancers, fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and sexually transmitted diseases or STDs), breast problems (for example, breast cancer and non-cancer related diseases), lung diseases (for example, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, lung cancer, emphysema, and asthma), stomach or digestive diseases (for example, cancers, gallbladder, liver, and pancreatic diseases, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn's disease), bladder problems (for example, urinary incontinence, and kidney infections), skin cancer, muscle and joint problems, emotional problems or mental illness (for example, postpartum depression, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mania, and schizophrenia), and headache disorders (for example, migraines, or "the worst headache of your life), and eating disorders and weight problems (for example, anorexia or bulimia).
Trying to Conceive
Trying to get conceive, or become pregnant can be challenging, frustrating, and an emotional rollercoaster for some couples. A couple can chart their progress, which may ultimately lead to a successful healthy pregnancy, or, when necessary, lead to discussions with a fertility specialist. If you're a woman, be aware of your menstrual cycle, and you can track when you are fertile during the month using the:
- Basal body temperature method
- Calendar method
- Ovulation method (cervical mucus)
About 10% of women in the US have problems getting pregnant, or carrying a pregnancy full term. Both men and women can have fertility problems. In fact, men and women each contribute about 1/3 when it comes to fertility problems. The other 1/3 are caused by a mixture of problems with both men and women or other problems that aren't identifiable.
UltrasoundUltrasound (and ultrasonography) is imaging of the body used in the medical diagnosis and screening of diseases and conditions such as:
- heart valve irregularities,
- carotid artery disease,
- heart disease,
- kidney stones,
- liver disease,
- diseases of the female reproductive, and
- diseases of the male reproductive organs.
X-rays are a powerful form of electromagnetic radiation that has the ability to pass through solid objects. In medicine, X-rays are used to obtain an image of a part of the body. X-rays are necessary to diagnose many illnesses, for example,
- dental problems,
- digestive or heart problems, and
- bone fractures.
The side effects, dangers, and risks of having X-rays while pregnant or breastfeeding are provided.