The first ultrasound, something many women anxiously await, actually varies for each woman. The American Pregnancy Association only recommends that ultrasounds be used when medically necessary. This leaves the decision of when to perform the first ultrasound up to the doctor and patient to determine what timing is best. For some this may be early on in the pregnancy, while other moms wait until midway through their pregnancy to first see their baby.
What Is an Ultrasound
Ultrasounds use sound waves transferred to a computer to give a picture of the fetus. In addition to the familiar standard ultrasound, several other types of ultrasounds are used, such as the transvaginal ultrasound, where a wand is inserted into the vagina, and the Doppler ultrasound, which can view the movement of blood. For low-risk pregnancies, most women only have the standard ultrasound.
What to Expect
The first ultrasound may be something you prepare for or come as a complete surprise at the first prenatal appointment with your doctor. Some doctor’s offices have a portable ultrasound machine in the exam room. These are usually quick procedures of less than 10 minutes. More in-depth ultrasounds, or if a doctor does not have a portable ultrasound, are usually performed by an ultrasound technician in a radiological facility. To get a the best view of your baby, you will probably receive instructions to drink a certain amount of water and to not empty your bladder before the appointment. Taking about an hour, these procedures provide more detail about your baby.
First Prenatal Appointment
Typically, women only receive an ultrasound in the first trimester at, or shortly following, their first prenatal appointment if there are concerns regarding the pregnancy. Some of these concerns include if the doctor is unable to find a heartbeat, unusual pain or bleeding, or to determine if there are multiple fetuses. Another reason for this early ultrasound would be to determine the gestation if a women does not know the approximate date of her last menstrual period or the time she got pregnant. If the pregnancy appears normal and healthy during the first trimester, then ultrasounds are not performed this early for most women.
First Trimester Screening Test
A relatively new test now more regularly offered to women is the first trimester screening test. Citing a 2005 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the American Pregnancy Association reports that this test is the most accurate method of testing a fetus for chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome. This non-invasive test involves a blood test from the mother and a quick ultrasound that measures the amount of fluid at the back of the neck of the baby. Performed at 11 to 13 weeks of gestation, this test accurately detects chromosomal problems 85 percent of the time according to the American Pregnancy Association. For many women who opt to take this test, this is their first ultrasound.
In healthy, low-risk pregnancies where the mother decided against the first trimester screening test, the second trimester marks the first ultrasound procedure. Many doctors recommend this be at around 18 to 20 weeks of gestation. At this age, bone and organ growth of the baby and amniotic fluid levels are measured, as well as determining if there are any signs of abnormalities. For parent who choose to, and if the baby positions himself just right, parents can also learn the sex for the first time.
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