Ultrasound scan during pregnancy. An ultrasound scan (echo) is an examination in which sound waves are used to make an image of the still unborn child. An ultrasound scan is also called an ultrasound or ultrasound examination. This image can be viewed on a monitor.
Why is an ultrasound scan done?
An ultrasound scan can be done:
- to determine the gestational age
- to see if there are abnormalities of the unborn child
- to see if there are deviations in the position of the child or the placenta
- at your own request
With a pregnancy without problems, there are usually 2 times when an ultrasound scan can be considered. That is around the 10th week to determine the period and around the 20th week to detect abnormalities in the child. Your midwife will discuss the pros and cons of these examinations. You can decide what you want. The obstetrician or gynecologist may also have other reasons to recommend an ultrasound scan sooner or later in the pregnancy.
Reasons to make an ultrasound early in pregnancy
- there is uncertainty about the precise gestational age
- in the event of a suspicion of ectopic pregnancy
- if there is a suspicion of a past miscarriage
- if there is a suspicion of a multiple pregnancies
- when suspected abnormalities in the uterus or ovaries
Reasons to have an ultrasound made later in the pregnancy
- if there is a suspicion that the child is growing too quickly or too slowly
- to assess the amount of amniotic fluid when there is doubt about it
- to assess the location of the child if it is not easy to feel
- to measure the thickness of the neck fold in the context of prenatal testing
- to assess the location of the mother cake (placenta), if there is any doubt about it
- to demonstrate abnormalities in the child in the context of prenatal examination
- to trace the cause of blood loss
- for performing a flake test or amniotic fluid puncture
- in the event of a mother’s illness that can cause abnormalities in the child
- in severe abdominal cramps
When are you eligible for an ultrasound scan?
The obstetrician, doctor or gynecologist who supervises your pregnancy will refer you for an ultrasound if he finds that there is a medical reason for this. Usually, an ultrasound is made in the hospital by an ultrasound examiner. Some midwives have an echo device themselves and make echoes themselves. It is also possible that the gynecologist makes the ultrasound himself.
How does an ultrasound scan work?
There are two ways to make an ultrasound depending on the duration of the pregnancy. Early in pregnancy (up to 13 weeks), an ultrasound is usually made through the vagina. Later in the pregnancy, this goes through the abdominal wall.
For vaginal ultrasound, it is important to empty your bladder thoroughly before the examination. You can take off your pants or skirt and underpants in the changing room. You lie on your back on a research bench. Sometimes a pillow is placed under the buttocks to allow your pelvis to tilt properly, which makes the examination easier. You may also need to place your legs in the leg supports.
The echo head is the part of the device with which the sound waves are transmitted and received. The echo head for a vaginal ultrasound is long and thin. A kind of condom is placed over the echo head with a lubricant on top. The researcher who makes the ultrasound then inserts the ultrasound head into the vagina. This insertion is not painful.
When the echo head is in the right place against the cervix, an image appears on the screen. To be able to view everything properly, the researcher moves the echo head slightly. You can watch the screen during the investigation. The researcher explains what you can see. The size of your child is often determined in different ways.
After the examination, the echo head is removed from the vagina and you can get dressed. You can wipe off any leftover gel with a towel or with tissues. In the dressing room, there are usually panty liners and sanitary napkins, which you can put in your underwear to catch any gel that still comes out of the vagina. After the ultrasound scan, you can go home.
You will receive the official result of the ultrasound from the obstetrician or gynecologist who supervises your pregnancy. If the researcher is an obstetrician or gynecologist, he can immediately inform you of the result. You will often receive a print-out of an ultrasound picture. If you want to take a closer look at the images at home, you can bring a videotape and ask if the images can be recorded.
Ultrasound through the abdomen
For an ultrasound scan through the outside of the abdomen, it is important to have a full bladder. This makes it possible to get a better view of the womb. After a three-month pregnancy, it is not always necessary to have a full bladder. It is not necessary to take off your clothes, uncovering your belly is sufficient. You lie down on a research bench.
The gel is applied to the echo head (which is somewhat thicker and wider than the echo head used for the vaginal echo). The examiner moves the echo head over the abdomen. The images can be seen on the screen. During the research, you can look on the screen and the researcher explains what there is to see. The size of your child is often determined in different ways.
The ultrasound examination is not painful. Sometimes having a full bladder can be annoying. If lying flat on the back is annoying, you can ask if you can sit more upright. After the examination, you can clean your belly with a towel. After the ultrasound scan, you can go home.
You will receive the official result of the ultrasound from the obstetrician or gynecologist who supervises your pregnancy. If the researcher is an obstetrician or gynecologist, he can immediately inform you of the result. Often you will receive a printout of an echo image. If you want to take a closer look at the images at home, you can take a videotape with you and ask if the images can be recorded.
What information can an ultrasound scan give you?
Black and white images of the unborn child are made with an ultrasound. With the latest ultrasound techniques, it is even possible to make a three-dimensional image of your child.
Pregnancy ring From a gestation period of four and a half weeks (ie four days after the absence of menstruation) an ultrasound scan can already be performed. The pregnancy can then be recognized as a small ring of about three millimeters.
Beating heart From the gestation period of five and a half weeks a beating heart can be seen. Yet it is not always possible to see the heart so early. If the embryo is 15 millimeters in size, there must certainly be a heart visible.
Size of the child
- From six weeks of pregnancy, The head and the trunk can be distinguished.
- From six to twelve weeks of pregnancy, The size of the child can be determined by measuring the distance between the top of the head and the tail. With a gestational age of six weeks, this is about seven millimeters, with twelve weeks 55 millimeters.
- After twelve weeks of pregnancy, The baby will lie more crooked, so that the width of the head will be taken as a measure of growth. Other possibilities for following the growth are to determine the abdominal circumference of the length of the upper leg.
- Up to about eighteen weeks of pregnancy, The baby can be seen in its entirety on the ultrasound screen.
- After eighteen weeks The child is so large that it can no longer be seen in its entirety on the echo screen.
Amount of amniotic fluid By determining the depth of the visible amount of amniotic fluid, it is possible to calculate how much amniotic fluid is present.
Breast cake and umbilical cord From a gestational age of eight to nine weeks:
- the mother cake is recognizable on the echo
- is to see where the umbilical cord in the mother cake adheres
- you can see the flow of blood vessels in the umbilical cord, so as to assess whether the child gets enough blood through the umbilical cord
Gender From a gestational age of fifteen to sixteen weeks, the gender of the unborn child can be determined. Usually, sex is determined for around eighteen to twenty weeks. The determination of gender is never 100% certain.
Examination of the organs
- With a gestational age between sixteen and twenty weeks If there is a suspicion that there may be abnormalities of the organs, an extensive ultrasound is often made.
- From a gestation period of twelve weeks, Most organs can be recognized.
- From a gestation period of fourteen weeks, Details of the face can be recognized.
What information can an ultrasound scan not give you?
Ultrasound examination cannot show all abnormalities; small deviations cannot always be seen. Routine testing also does not systematically consider all possible abnormalities. Also, not all disorders can be detected by ultrasound examination. An ultrasound scan where no abnormalities are found, therefore does not give you a complete guarantee that your child will not have congenital defects.
What does the result of an ultrasound scan mean?
You will receive the results of the ultrasound scan from the midwife, doctor or gynecologist who will guide you during pregnancy. They can also support you if abnormalities have been detected in your child during the ultrasound examination. Fortunately, most pregnancies go without problems. The following points are important to realize before making an echo:
Unexpected findings Sometimes an ultrasound scan results in unexpected findings that are independent of the original reason for the examination, but that may have consequences for your child or the course of the pregnancy. It is important to discuss in advance whether you want to be notified of such findings.
An unexpected finding when making an ultrasound can be a big shock to you. It is best to discuss this with the obstetrician, doctor or gynecologist who supervises your pregnancy. They can explain to you what this finding means and what this means for you and your unborn baby.
Erroneous findings It is possible that something is noticed during an ultrasound examination, which later turns out to be innocent, disappears again or has been measured incorrectly. This can give rise to unnecessary concern. Although ultrasound examination will be performed with the greatest possible care, these erroneous findings cannot always be prevented.
Are there any risks to an ultrasound scan?
An ultrasound scan has been used in midwifery for 35 years. Many studies have been done to assess whether ultrasound examination can cause harm to the unborn child or the pregnant woman. So far, there are no known studies that have shown damage.
A recent investigation might show that more left-handedness would occur as a result of an ultrasound examination, but this investigation is not yet convincing. An ultrasound scan can, therefore, be performed safely. Having unnecessary ultrasounds can be avoided better.