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March 8, 2017

The visual of your sweet baby’s growing little fingers, and actually seeing his/her heart beating can bring about emotions you don’t always experience just by hearing the heartbeat or seeing a positive pregnancy test.  Human nature tends to prefer confirmation by sight, hence the sayings, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” and “I saw it with my own eyes.” And being able to actually see your growing little baby strengthens the already growing bond and can provide a comforting, reassuring feeling as you deal with some of the less-pretty side effects of pregnancy.

So when should you expect your first ultrasound? How many ultrasounds will you get during pregnancy? Should you try to get a 3D or 4D ultrasound? Should you stop by the ultrasound kiosk at the mall just to take a peek? Can ultrasounds harm the baby?

We’re answering all of your ultrasound questions and giving you everything you need to know about ultrasounds during pregnancy.

Ultrasound Timeline

First Trimester: An initial 2D Ultrasound is often used around 10 weeks to confirm your pregnancy and obtain measurements to verify gestational age. At this time the baby’s heartbeat will also be heard and your doctor will take a look at your baby’s organs and position to ensure all is well.

Second Trimester: Around 20 weeks another ultrasound will be offered to check development and for any anomalies. At this time the gender of your baby can often be identified, as well.

Third Trimester: Sometimes a third ultrasound scan is recommended to be done during the third trimester. This is usually only if certain complications are present or suspected.

2D, 3D, and 4D Ultrasounds Explained

Ultrasound technology is the use of sound waves used to create a picture. During pregnancy, a transducer is used to send sound waves into the uterus, and those sound waves bounce off of the baby, fluid, and any other contents. The “echo” of those returning sound waves creates a picture of the baby. Because bones are more solid, they reflect more sound and create a more significant “echo,” which is why they show up white on the screen. Fluid and softer tissues absorb more sound, and they show up black and gray, respectively, on the screen.

Two-Dimensional (2D) Ultrasounds

Two-dimensional scans show the internal organs of your baby through a single cross-sectional angle. This gives the doctor a chance to examine your baby’s growth and development, looking for any abnormalities or deformities. It can be difficult to decipher various features of your baby when looking at these snapshots yourself, as this image shows through the skin.

Three-Dimensional (3D) Ultrasounds

Three-dimensional scans convert 2D scans into a more complete picture, showing you an image that looks more like your baby at birth – skin, hair, and all. Although these are more exciting for the parents to see, they are also very useful for your doctor to get a better angle at any deformities or abnormalities your baby may have. These scans, as well as four-dimensional scans, are usually not part of routine prenatal exams, but if your doctor opts to use a 3D or 4D scan they will often offer you a print at no charge.

Four-Dimensional (4D) Ultrasounds

Four-dimensional scans are just 3D scans that add the factor of movement. These scans can show the action of your baby sucking his/her thumb, waving, or doing other sweet motions. These scans can be useful for medical purposes, like for examining the heartbeat if a problem is suspected, or for other specific problems.

Commercial Ultrasounds and Safety

The accessibility of advanced ultrasound technology has made it appealing to parents to seek additional ultrasounds to see their baby more frequently. Commercial ultrasound options have become common, but medical professionals advise against using ultrasound for recreational or entertainment purposes. Although there has not been any evidence that ultrasound can harm your baby, The American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) states that, “However, it is possible that effects could be identified in the future. For this reason, it is recommended that ultrasound exams be performed only for medical reasons by qualified health care providers.” Because commercial ultrasound appointments can often result in extended ultrasound exposure, often 45 minutes to an hour, and are not always performed by certified, qualified sonographers, medical professionals advise that you only utilize ultrasound technology when recommended by your doctor.

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Avatar for Angela Silva

Angela Silva

Angela graduated with her B.S. in Exercise and Wellness and is a NASM certified personal trainer who specializes in postpartum fitness and recovery. She enjoys writing, cracking jokes, and spending time with her family, preferably while fishing. She shares many of her life adventures on Instagram as @angelagrams

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