Ultrasounds are most commonly known for being used on pregnant women to determine how a baby is developing. For any parent the first ultrasound is an exciting and emotional experience. But for new parents it can also be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you don’t know what to expect. In this article, we will go over what to expect for your first ultrasound.
What is an ultrasound?
An ultrasound (or sonography) is an exam that uses sound waves to create images of the body. An ultrasound allows doctors to see inside your body without making an incision. The technician who performs the ultrasound uses a wand to send sound waves into your body. These sound waves bounce off the tissue that makes up your body. The echoes that return from your tissue give the technician images that show where different parts of your body are, the location of organs, and how their structure looks.
There are two types of pelvic ultrasound: transvaginal (internal) and transabdominal (external) ultrasounds.
Done during early pregnancy a transvaginal ultrasound involves placing a wand shaped object into the vagina for a detailed look at the fetus. It helps determine how far along in pregnancy you are. Although any discomfort is said to be minimal, it is the more invasive type of ultrasound of the two.
This kind of ultrasound is generally done because the fetus is very small and located deep in the pelvis. Sound doesn’t pass through bone so the size and placement make it impossible to see. A transvaginal ultrasound might also become necessary later on in the pregnancy if a condition called placenta previa develops. This is when the placenta blocks the cervical opening, making vaginal birth impossible. If this happens, a C-section is recommended.
Transabdominal ultrasound is a non-invasive type of ultrasound. These are commonly done after the first 11 weeks of pregnancy. Clear gel is applied to the abdomen and a transducer is moved over the area with gentle pressure.
When do you go for your first ultrasound?
The first ultrasound can come as early as 6 to 8 weeks into your pregnancy, however most patients will go in at between 11 and 14 weeks. It varies based on a few different factors: age, existing medical conditions and the preference of your healthcare provider.
What can you expect?
You can expect to learn a variety of things from the first ultrasound. This can include the size of the baby, the sex, and verifying the position of the baby. It is also possible to see the baby’s face, hands and feet at this point, but may need the tech’s help identifying the features.
Before the appointment the healthcare provider will likely offer you instructions on how to prepare for the ultrasound, but here are a few things to keep in mind. Loose-fitting, two-piece clothes are often recommended so that the tech can easily see your abdomen. If your first ultrasound happens before 14 weeks, you’re more likely to be asked to fill your bladder before the appointment because sound waves travel better through a liquid. Some healthcare providers may ask you to fill your bladder regardless of how far along you are in your pregnancy as it improves the quality of the ultrasound. If you’re not sure it’s always best to ask.
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