When do you have ultrasounds during pregnancy?

Quick answer

Pregnant women typically have at least two ultrasounds during pregnancy. The first ultrasound is usually done between weeks 6-9 of pregnancy to confirm the due date, check for multiples, and screen for potential problems. The second ultrasound is done between weeks 18-22 to check anatomy and screen for birth defects. Additional ultrasounds may be done later in pregnancy to track growth, check position, or evaluate complications if needed.

When is the first ultrasound done?

The first ultrasound, also called the dating ultrasound or nuchal translucency ultrasound, is typically done between 6-9 weeks of pregnancy. The main purposes of this early ultrasound are to:

– Confirm the pregnancy and determine how far along you are. The ultrasound can accurately date the pregnancy so your due date can be calculated.

– Check for multiples. An early ultrasound can determine if you are having twins, triplets or more.

– Check the location of the pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy located outside the uterus can be identified.

– Evaluate potential problems. Early ultrasounds may detect issues like miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, or uterine fibroids.

– Screen for chromosomal issues. A nuchal translucency ultrasound looks for increased fluid at the back of the baby’s neck which can indicate Down syndrome or trisomy 18.

So in summary, every pregnant woman should have a first trimester ultrasound between 6-9 weeks. Determining the gestational age early is important for tracking growth later on and assessing the due date.

When is the second ultrasound done?

The second routine ultrasound is typically done between 18-22 weeks of pregnancy. This is called the anatomy scan or level 2 ultrasound. The main purposes of this ultrasound are to:

– Check the baby’s anatomy. All of the major organs are evaluated including the brain, heart, lungs, stomach, kidneys and bones. The ultrasound technician will check that the organs are developing normally.

– Identify the gender. You can opt to find out the sex of your baby if you want to.

– Look at the placenta. The placenta will be checked to make sure it is properly attached and positioned.

– Measure the amniotic fluid level. Too much or too little amniotic fluid can signal potential problems.

– Check positioning. The location of the baby and position of the body parts is assessed.

– Screen for birth defects. Many structural problems like spina bifida, heart defects, cleft lip, and limb abnormalities can be seen.

So the second ultrasound is an important milestone in any pregnancy. It provides reassurance that your baby is developing normally and allows early identification of potential issues.

Are additional ultrasounds done later in pregnancy?

Some women have additional ultrasounds done in the third trimester, after 28 weeks. Reasons for late pregnancy ultrasounds include:

– Checking fetal growth. If a problem like intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) is suspected, ultrasounds can track growth and size.

– Evaluating amniotic fluid levels. Decreasing fluid levels may signal problems.

– Checking the position. If breech positioning is suspected, an ultrasound can confirm if your baby’s head is down.

– Checking the placenta location. Placenta previa that is blocking the cervix can be diagnosed.

– Estimating fetal weight. Ultrasounds late in pregnancy can give an estimate of your baby’s size, which helps guide delivery plans.

– Evaluating complications. Issues like preeclampsia, placental abruption or oligohydramnios may prompt additional scans.

So in high risk pregnancies, 3+ ultrasounds may be done. But in normal low risk pregnancies, two routine ultrasounds are standard. Only do additional scans if your doctor recommends them for medical reasons. Unnecessary ultrasounds do not improve pregnancy outcomes.

How are ultrasounds done during pregnancy?

Ultrasounds use high frequency sound waves to create images of the baby in the womb. A transducer probe is moved over the mother’s abdomen by a trained technician to obtain views of the uterus and baby. Gel is applied so the probe glides smoothly over the skin. The session takes about 20-40 minutes.

Ultrasounds are considered very safe for mother and baby. No radiation exposure occurs. They have been used for decades and extensively studied. Research shows ultrasounds do not cause harm when used as recommended by your prenatal care provider.

3D and 4D ultrasounds are not routinely done in pregnancy. They are considered recreational and not medically necessary. Standard 2D ultrasounds provide all the needed views of the baby and uterus. If you opt for a boutique 3D ultrasound, it should be done in addition to, not instead of, your routine ultrasounds.

Some key tips for ultrasounds:

– Drink plenty of water before the scan to fill your bladder. A full bladder gives the best images.

– You can eat and drink normally beforehand. No fasting or preparation is needed.

– Bring your partner or family if you want them to see the baby. But limit guests to 1-2 people.

– Ask questions and speak up about any concerns or discomfort. Technicians welcome feedback.

– You may be able to get photos or a DVD keepsake, but ask your provider first. Not all clinics provide them.

So in summary, standard practice is two routine ultrasounds during pregnancy for most women. These scans provide valuable information on baby’s growth and development while being safe for both mother and child. Additional ultrasounds are done only when medically indicated.

What is seen on the first trimester ultrasound?

The first trimester ultrasound, done between 6-9 weeks, checks the following:

– Confirmation of pregnancy location: The ultrasound will identify where the pregnancy is located. A normal intrauterine pregnancy will show the gestational sac and embryo in the uterus. An ectopic pregnancy will show the embryo developing outside the uterine cavity, often in the fallopian tube.

– Checking for multiples: With ultrasound, twins or even triplets can be identified by seeing two or more embryos. Multiple gestations are at higher risk for complications so early detection is important.

– Determining the gestational age: By measuring from the top of the fetus’s head to its bottom, the crown-rump length, the gestational age and due date can be estimated. The embryo’s age determines future care.

– Evaluating embryo/fetal health: The technician will check for a visible heartbeat, measure the heart rate, and assess overall development to make sure things look normal. Slow heart rates may indicate problems.

– Checking ovaries/uterus: The shape, size and appearance of the ovaries and uterus will be examined. Ovarian cysts, fibroids, or anatomical issues can sometimes be found.

– Screening for chromosomal issues: A nuchal translucency ultrasound looks for increased fluid at the back of the baby’s neck that could signal Down syndrome.

So in summary, the first trimester scan provides important information that confirms the pregnancy, identifies multiples, dates the embryo accurately, checks development, and screens for major issues like ectopic pregnancy or chromosome problems. It establishes a baseline for the rest of prenatal care.

What is seen on the second trimester ultrasound?

The second trimester anatomy ultrasound, performed between 18-22 weeks, provides detailed views of the baby’s organs and body parts. The ultrasound technician will methodically measure and inspect:

– The brain and skull. Cerebral ventricles, midline falx, choroid plexus and nuchal fold thickness are checked.

– Face and neck. Jaw, lips and nasal bones are examined for clefts. The neck is checked for fluid.

– Heart. Cardiac chambers, vessels, valves and outflow tracts are studied. Heart rate and rhythm are noted.

– Lungs. Shape, echogenicity and development of lungs are assessed. The diaphragm is checked.

– Stomach. Size, shape and placement of the stomach is noted.

– Kidneys. Number, location, size and shape of kidneys are checked. Bladder is examined.

– Bones. Alignment of the spine and view of extremities is done to check for limb deformities.

– Abdomen. The umbilical cord insertion site and stomach bubble location is checked.

– Pelvis. Appearance of bladder, reproductive organs and umbilical cord is assessed.

– Placenta. Position, texture and appearance of the placenta is evaluated.

The level of amniotic fluid and placement of the baby in the uterus is also checked. The anatomy scan provides a comprehensive look at the baby’s physiology and development while screening for problems and birth defects.

What happens after an abnormal ultrasound finding?

Most ultrasounds provide normal results that indicate the pregnancy is progressing well. But in some cases, abnormal findings may be detected that could signal potential problems. Common abnormal ultrasound results include:

– Ectopic pregnancy: A pregnancy located outside the uterus, often in a fallopian tube. This is considered a dangerous emergency needing quick treatment.

– Miscarriage: Lack of embryo development or fading heartbeat can indicate the pregnancy is not viable.

– Birth defects: Issues like cleft lip, club foot, heart defects or neural tube defects may be seen. Further testing can confirm findings.

– Placental problems: Placenta previa, placental abruption or growths may be found.

– Poor growth: Small size, low amniotic fluid or slow growth can suggest IUGR or poor placental function.

– Multiple pregnancy complications: Twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome, premature labor, etc.

If abnormal findings are seen, your doctor will discuss the results and coordinate any needed follow up tests. Further imaging, specialist consults or amniocentesis may be recommended. Close monitoring or possible early delivery could be advised. The approach depends on the specific abnormality.

Most ultrasound findings turn out to be harmless variations that resolve as pregnancy progresses. But serious issues are detected in about 2-3% of ultrasounds. Abnormal results can help guide pregnancy management and prepare parents if problems are found.

What are the benefits of ultrasounds during pregnancy?

Here are the main benefits of ultrasounds for expectant mothers:

– Confirm the pregnancy and determine how far along you are
– Check that the embryo/fetus is developing normally
– Screen for chromosomal abnormalities like Down syndrome
– Identify risks like ectopic pregnancy, multiples, miscarriage
– Evaluate the womb and placenta for proper shape, size, and position
– Assess amniotic fluid level as too much or too little fluid can signal problems
– Check fetal anatomy to make sure organs are present and forming correctly
– Estimate fetal weight and position as pregnancy progresses
– Identify complications like IUGR, birth defects, placental issues
– Reduce maternal anxiety and provide reassurance by allowing “visual contact” with the baby
– Determine gender if desired

Ultrasounds are an important part of prenatal care and maternal health. They allow careful monitoring of the baby and uterus while posing no risk when used as directed. Ultrasounds enable physicians to provide the highest quality care throughout pregnancy.

What are the risks or disadvantages of ultrasounds?

Ultrasound imaging has an excellent safety record. It has been widely used in obstetrics for over 50 years with no evidence of harm. However, there are some disadvantages and risks to consider:

– False positive results: Abnormal findings may prompt further testing only to find everything is actually normal. This causes unnecessary worry and procedures.
– False negative results: Defects or issues are missed, creating false reassurance. No test is perfect.
– Accidental gender reveal: You may learn the sex if you did not want to know. Technicians try to avoid showing gender.
– Over reliance on technology: Ultrasounds do not replace good clinical care and judgment. Results must be considered carefully.
– Extra cost: While usually covered by insurance, additional copays or coinsurance payments may apply.
– Misinterpretation of images by untrained people: Leads to inappropriate actions. Leave ultrasounds to the professionals.
– Overuse: Too many unnecessary ultrasounds do not improve outcomes and may expose women to needless testing following ambiguous findings. The recommended number should not be exceeded without cause.
– Delayed diagnosis of hidden defects: Some problems are not detectable by ultrasound either due to timing or positioning. Physical exams also play a role.
– Discomfort: For some women, lying still, having a full bladder and abdo


The medical consensus is that ultrasound is a safe, non-invasive tool that provides valuable information about maternal and fetal health during pregnancy if used appropriately. The benefits significantly outweigh the risks. Following professional guidelines for timing and number of ultrasounds balances the desire to monitor the pregnancy closely with avoiding needless intervention. While not perfect, ultrasound is an invaluable component of responsible prenatal care and monitoring.

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