Ultrasounds in Pregnancy and Its Uses
Ultrasounds are important antenatal tests that help ensure a health development of the baby you are carrying. Ultrasounds are painless and quick scans that use high frequency sound waves in order to assess your baby’s health. Despite the fact that sound waves are used, you will not be able to hear any of them as their frequency is not audible to the human ear.
The science behind it is quite complex but to explain things in a few words, ultrasounds translate sound waves into the images that you see on the screen by means of a transducer, the device which the radiographer moves gently over the surface of your pregnant belly. Ultrasounds are entirely non invasive and risk free. Studies have shown time and time again that the sound waves do not affect the mother or the fetus.
Why are ultrasounds used?
To say ultrasounds are used to monitor fetal health is to scrape over the surface and the many important uses of ultrasounds. Ultrasounds can be used as both screening tests and diagnostic tests. They can be used to:
- Take certain important measurements of the fetus at a given age. This would include measurements of its limbs and skull.
- To know the exact position of the baby. In many cases, the position knowing the position of the fetus can help ensure a delivery without complication caused by, for example, wrong positioning of the umbilical cord.
- To see whether the baby suffers from any birth defects including defects of the spinal cord.
- Diagnose other conditions such as heart problems or urinary tract blockages.
- Find out in advance the gender of your baby.
The detection of birth defects by means of ultrasounds warrants some further explanation. Ultrasounds can effectively be used to confirm whether the baby is suffering from any chromosomal or genetic abnormalities such as Down’s syndrome. Of course, physical deformities in the development of limbs or other parts of the body can usually be seen with an ultrasound. A good radiographer might observe certain creases and folds on the neck of the unborn baby. These folds and creases, known as fetal nuchal translucency, might indicate a Down’s baby. If prenatal care specialists suspect your baby might have a genetic condition, then they might suggest some more in-depth diagnostic tests such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling. This test will enable an extraction of the baby’s genetic material which can then be sent to the laboratory for analysis.
Of course, even if ultrasounds indicate a defect and further diagnostic tests confirm it, it is up to the couple to decide how to proceed. Besides, it is important to bear in mind that although doctors might recommend diagnostic testing you can opt out from having it done and choose to live your pregnancy as nature intended it.
The fetal heart beat can also be heard at about eighteen weeks of pregnancy using a doppler. This instrument measures the blood supply to the baby’s heart and allows for one of the most excitement moments of all prenatal care visits: when the mother gets to hear her baby’s tiny heart beat.
An early ultrasound
Normally, an ultrasound is carried out on all pregnant women at anywhere between eighteen to twenty weeks. In some cases, an ultrasound will be done pretty early in your pregnancy. This preliminary ultrasound is done for a number of reasons. It may be done to confirm whether there are multiple fetuses (perhaps twins or triplets) or to measure the volume of amniotic fluid or the position of the placenta. It can moreover, be useful if you have no idea when you conceived. By measuring the baby, specialists can determine the likely fetal age and thus, estimate the due date. Other more serious reasons might be vaginal bleeding in the first trimester or the beginning of the second. This may indicate a miscarriage and the midwife or prenatal care specialist might want to confirm whether the baby’s heart can be seen beating or not.
Ultrasounds are thus a simple but integral part of prenatal care. Of course, they are only one aspects of the whole experience and of all the prenatal visits you will attend. They are however, the tests that will allow you to get pretty close to your baby by seeing him or her and by hearing her heart beat.
Emily Emerson is a free lance writer specializing in topics related to pregnancy. The writer regularly publishes a number of articles which can be found in the knowledge base for: http://www.easy-dna.com/