Once you and your partner become expectant parents, there are a few things you need to do. Your baby is going to need clothes, diapers, wipes, and a baby bed to sleep in. (Mom might need a few things too!)
Babies need care while they’re in the womb too. That’s why it’s important for mothers to visit their OB-GYN or midwife regularly.
At the doctor, you’ll be able to listen to your baby’s heartbeat, see how well they’re growing, and make sure the mother is doing well and the pregnancy is going well. One of the ways that doctors will be able to check up on your baby’s development is through a pregnancy ultrasound.
Ultrasounds, or sonograms, are one of the ways that we can get a picture of our babies while they’re still in their mother’s womb. If this is your first pregnancy, you’re probably wondering how many ultrasounds you will need over the course of your pregnancy.
There are many factors that go into how many ultrasounds you’ll need, but typically, the number is on the low side of things.
What Is an Ultrasound?
An ultrasound is a tool that can take pictures of the mother’s interior and show the fetus. A sonogram or ultrasound scan uses high-frequency sound waves to create a picture of what the baby looks like in the womb.
You may have heard the words sonogram and ultrasound used interchangeably, but they aren’t technically the same thing. The ultrasound is the tool that takes the picture, and the sonogram is the picture itself. The process itself is a sonography.
Unlike an X-ray, an ultrasound doesn’t use any form of radiation, so it’s the safest way to check on a developing baby. The high-frequency sound waves bounce off of tissue and organs to generate a picture of the body’s interior. It can show soft tissues, organs, and blood vessels.
What Will the Ultrasound Be Like?
Ultrasounds are fairly simple procedures. Most mothers will only need two types of standard ultrasound: a transvaginal ultrasound and an abdominal ultrasound. There are also ultrasounds that can show your baby’s blood flow, a Doppler ultrasound, and one that takes better pictures of your baby’s heart, a fetal echocardiogram.
Transvaginal ultrasounds are slightly more invasive than abdominal ultrasounds, but they are better for getting clear images in early pregnancy. The ultrasound tech places the device inside the vaginal canal.
Abdominal ultrasounds are done by placing the transducer directly on the abdomen. Usually, the ultrasound tech will squirt a water-soluble gel on top of the mother’s belly since it helps transmit the sound waves. The transducer sends out sound waves, which then reflect back to the screen so you can see better.
Usually, ultrasounds will take about 30 minutes. The ultrasound technician needs to measure the baby and take pictures at certain angles. The room will be dim since this allows the tech to see the images better.
What Do the Images Look Like?
Many ultrasound pictures will be two-dimensional (2D), but technology is developing. There are also three-dimensional (3D) ultrasounds, which provide a more realistic-looking fetus. With a 2D ultrasound, you’ll be able to see an outline of your little one, with their nose, legs, head, arms, and torso.
A 3D ultrasound exam will allow you to see a few more details, like where the eyes are or your baby’s mouth or toes.
Most pictures will be gray in color since the sound waves cannot show color. However, you will still be able to see how adorable your little one is.
Why Do I Need an Ultrasound?
Ultrasounds are an important part of obstetric care. It allows for your OB-GYN or midwife to check in on the baby. It can help your doctor determine if the pregnancy is going well, and they can use it to check on the baby’s growth.
Ultrasounds may also be used to help determine whether there are any high-risk pregnancy concerns. Things like a bicarbonate uterus, twins, or triplets, as well as any other women’s health concerns, can be detected with an ultrasound.
Other tests you may need between your first and third trimesters are sonograms and amniocentesis. Sonograms are useful because they can help your doctor or midwife determine how to best help you through your pregnancy, and amniocentesis tests can help your doctor get a better picture of your baby’s health.
Some parents may also want to use their first ultrasound as a way of announcing their pregnancy. Many techs will print out photos for expectant parents, and it can be a cute way to let everyone know. Seeing your baby for the first time can also be reassuring for parents who aren’t sure what to expect.
What Can Be Found With an Ultrasound?
An ultrasound can help your healthcare provider find many different things that can help them care for you during your pregnancy, not just the number of babies you will be having or the shape of the uterus.
What the ultrasound technician detects depends on what type of ultrasound they are doing and when they do it.
A transvaginal ultrasound can help:
- Find a heartbeat, which confirms pregnancy
- Confirm their gestational age
- Determine a due date
- Measure the size of the fetus
- Check for potential complications, like miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, or molar pregnancy
Abdominal ultrasounds are typically used for an anatomical check-up to check that the baby is growing properly.
An anatomy scan can:
- Help the doctor find any medical conditions affecting your baby’s heart, brain, kidneys, or bones
- Screen for birth defects
- Discover the baby’s sex
- Watch the baby’s movement
- Check the position of the placenta
- Check your baby’s position
Ultrasounds can also be used to check to see if your baby has enough oxygen, guide a medical procedure, determine the amount of amniotic fluid, and check on the mother’s cervix, ovaries, and uterus.
Generally, a fetus cannot be detected until around six weeks, so most ultrasounds will be given after that point.
How Many Ultrasounds Will I Need?
Most expectant mothers will only need two ultrasounds. One will be at the beginning of the pregnancy in your first trimester, and one will be a follow-up in the second trimester after your baby bump begins to show.
Some pregnant women will only get one ultrasound, usually around 20 weeks. Although it is common to have two, some healthcare providers or mothers prefer to wait.
However, if the pregnancy is high risk or there are any abnormalities, you and your partner may need to have more ultrasounds to make sure that everything is progressing properly. It depends on your healthcare needs.
Generally, it’s best to have as few prenatal ultrasounds as possible. Although they aren’t dangerous procedures, insurance providers may not cover additional ultrasounds unless there is a clear medical need for them.
It’s always best to listen to your doctor. If they determine that it’s important for the health of the mother and the baby to have more than a couple of ultrasounds, then you should schedule them at the recommended times.
When Is Each Ultrasound?
The first-trimester ultrasound will usually be done between six and nine weeks. By this time, the heartbeat can be heard. Most early ultrasounds will be done vaginally since that is the best way to see and hear the developing fetus.
Next, you will have your second-trimester ultrasound at 18-22 weeks. Your little one will be moving around by then, kicking and pushing against the mother, and the sex can be determined. These are done abdominally.
Unless there are issues that your obstetrician needs to keep an eye on, the 20-week ultrasound should be your last. Most obstetricians and midwives will check for continued growth by measuring your growing bump and feeling for the baby.
Do I Need To Do Anything To Prepare for an Ultrasound?
Many medical procedures require some preparation. Fortunately, an ultrasound is not one of them. Usually, the only thing that a provider may request is that the mother’s bladder is full since it can help them see the baby better.
Most ultrasound technicians will allow a partner or other trusted adult to accompany the mother during the ultrasound, but children may be too disruptive while the tech is doing their initial measuring and checking. They may allow siblings in after they gather the information they need.
Checking In on Your Baby
One of the great things about ultrasounds is that you will be able to see images of your baby. Of course, finding out you're pregnant is exciting, but seeing pictures of your little one can help reality sink in.
Most ultrasound techs will print out some images of your little one so that you have a few keepsakes from your pregnancy. Even though some parts of your pregnancy are difficult, having those pictures around can help renew your excitement to see that little face in the picture.
At Mommy Care Kit, we understand that there are a lot of things that you need to do to take care of your baby and yourself while you are pregnant. We have many products that can help mothers and their babies stay healthy and comfortable.
Ultrasounds are one of the easiest and most exciting parts of pregnancy. Seeing your little one for the first time is a big moment, even if it’s not in person yet.