Pregnancy Ultrasound Types and When You Need Them

happy couple showing baby ultradsound

Throughout your pregnancy, you will likely have multiple ultrasound exams, but not always in the same manner or for the same purpose. What all diagnostic ultrasounds do have in common is their use of high-frequency sound waves to capture images of the internal structures of your body. And when you’re pregnant, that includes your baby. These ultrasound images are critical tools for assessing your baby’s health and development.

Pregnancy ultrasounds typically fall into one of six categories:

Pregnancy Confirmation Ultrasound

A pregnancy confirmation ultrasound exam should be administered very early in your pregnancy, ideally immediately after a positive medical pregnancy test result. The pregnancy confirmation ultrasound verifies the pregnancy, identifies the baby’s heartbeat and determines if there are any indications of a potentially dangerous ectopic pregnancy. It can also be used to estimate your due date. This type of ultrasound exam can be done by your obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN) or at pregnancy resource center, like Sira in Gainesville.

Transabdominal Ultrasounds

The most common and familiar type of pregnancy ultrasound exam is the transabdominal ultrasound, with transabdominal roughly translating to, “through the abdomen.” Your healthcare provider will apply a special gel to your abdomen and then gently move a tool called a transducer across your belly. The transducer is connected to a video screen that displays the ultrasound images.

Transabdominal ultrasounds allow your healthcare provider to evaluate your baby’s health and development, check the placenta and your amniotic fluid levels, determine your baby’s position inside the womb and more.

Depending on the circumstances of your pregnancy, you may have just one or two transabdominal ultrasounds, or your healthcare provider may determine you need them more frequently.

Transvaginal Ultrasounds

In some instances, your healthcare provider may recommend a transvaginal ultrasound exam. While a transabdominal ultrasound is conducted using a transducer on the exterior of your abdomen, with a transvaginal ultrasound the transducer is inserted through the vagina. This type of ultrasound may be necessary if the pregnancy is deemed high-risk, or to check any unexplained bleeding, pelvic pain or potential cervical issues, or if there are any abnormalities or ineffective readings from a transabdominal ultrasound. When necessary, transvaginal ultrasounds are typically conducted during the first trimester.

Doppler Ultrasounds

One of the most thrilling moments for many expectant mothers is hearing their baby’s heartbeat for the first time. This is accomplished through a Doppler ultrasound exam. This type of ultrasound is conducted much like other transabdominal ultrasounds, but it uses special equipment to detect changes in the movement of your baby’s heart and then translate those movements into sounds. Doppler ultrasounds are typically conducted during the second trimester.

You can even buy at-home Doppler devices to listen to your baby’s heartbeat. However, healthcare providers recommend not using an at-home Doppler prior to your second trimester, as the heartbeat can be difficult to hear before that time, which can cause you undo concern and stress.

Fetal Echocardiograph

Depending on the conditions of your pregnancy, your healthcare provider may recommend a fetal echocardiograph. Conducted either transabdominally or transvaginally, this type of ultrasound allows your healthcare provider to better evaluate your baby’s heart health. This may be necessary if there’s a family history of heart problems, if the mother has certain known health or wellness conditions or if potential abnormalities are identified through standard pregnancy ultrasound exams.

When necessary, fetal echocardiographs are typically performed during the second trimester.

3D and 4D Ultrasounds

In some instances, 2D (two-dimensional) ultrasounds, like those described above, can’t provide sufficient detail for your healthcare provider to fully assess known developmental issues like a cleft lip or a spinal condition. In these cases, your healthcare provider may call for a 3D (three-dimensional) or 4D (three-dimensional plus motion) ultrasound. During your third trimester, your healthcare provider may also offer you the option of having a 3D or 4D ultrasound simply to allow you to better see your baby.

While typically considered safe when administered by a healthcare professional, experts including the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warn against having “keepsake”3D or 4D ultrasounds conducted by commercial businesses, as they may expose you and baby to unnecessary heat for extended periods of time.

If you believe you may be pregnant, getting a pregnancy confirmation ultrasound should be one of your very first steps. In Gainesville, Sira offers these ultrasound exams at no charge, and you don’t even need health insurance.

To schedule your free pregnancy confirmation ultrasound, contact Sira today at 352-377-4947.

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