The most thorough checkup that a baby can undergo before it’s birth is through an ultrasound examination. The ultrasound can monitor foetal growth at every stage of it’s development and can warn us about any potential problems that may occur for either or both mother and baby during delivery or after.
An ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves which bounce off the baby’s body and the woman’s organs to give us an image in the computer of the developing baby as well as the mother’s reproductive organs during pregnancy.
With an ultrasound exam we can monitor the baby’s heart rate, it’s timely structural development, it’s growth and any abnormalities that may have occurred in it’s brain, heart, kidneys, and liver. It is so useful that even the baby’s fingers and toes can be counted and the baby checked for any birth defects. The placenta is examined and the level of the amniotic fluid is ascertained.
While ultrasound is mostly used for medical reasons it can also be used for other reasons during pregnancy such as to give the expectant parents the first view of their baby and maybe to detect the sex of the baby. However, this practice is to be discouraged.
Early on in the pregnancy an ultrasound is usually carried out to confirm the pregnancy, to estimate the gestational age of the foetus and to calculate the expected date of delivery. The fetal heartbeat is checked upon, the placenta, and reproductive organs of the patient are examined, and any abnormal growth of the foetus or multiple pregnancy is ruled out.
If an ectopic pregnancy is suspected then an ultrasound is a must for diagnosis.
Later on in the pregnancy, an ultrasound is performed in between weeks 12 to 24 (second trimester) and in between weeks 24 to 40 weeks (third trimester of pregnancy).
The ultrasound gives valuable information on the normal growth, position and sex of the baby. Any problems in the placenta such as placenta praevia and placenta abruptia can be detected. Multiple pregnancies can be confirmed and also intra-uterine death if it has occurred.
The foetus can be monitored for any structural abnormalities or birth defects or blood flow problems. The characteristics of Down’s syndrome can be checked. The level of amniotic fluid, the length of the cervix and any problems of the ovaries, uterus can be checked.
How to prepare for an ultrasound:
During an ultrasound, especially earlier in the pregnancy, you may need to have a full bladder for the technician to get a clear image of the fetus and your reproductive organs. For best results you should drink two to three eight-ounce glasses of water one hour before your scheduled ultrasound. You shouldn’t urinate before you leave so you arrive at your appointment with a full bladder.
What happens during an ultrasound
During an ultrasound, you lie down on an examination table or bed. The ultrasound will most likely be done on your abdomen so wear a two-piece clothing to your ultrasound, to allow for easy access to your tummy.
While you’re reclining on an exam table, the doctor or ultrasound technician will slather gel on your belly. The gel may feel cold and messy. The gel is water-based, so it shouldn’t leave marks on your clothes or skin. The gel helps the sound waves travel properly.
Next, the technician places a small plastic wand, called a transducer, onto your belly. The transducer is moved around on the tummy surface to capture black and white images onto the ultrasound screen. The technician may also take measurements of the image on the screen. They may ask you to move or hold your breath while they capture images.
The technician then checks to see if the necessary images were captured and if they are clear. Then, the technician wipes off the gel and you can empty your bladder.