Thanks to amazing developments in ultrasound technology, you can now see your developing baby from his earliest stages, when his heart starts to beat around the 5th week of pregnancy, and watch him go through a host of changes until he is formed into the little treasure you’ll meet on his birth day.

To create an ultrasound image, high-frequency sound waves are transmitted through your abdomen (don’t worry, your baby can’t hear these sounds), and the echoes are then converted to a video image of your baby in your womb. Most ultrasounds are performed externally via your belly, but they can also be done via vaginal probe, although this is less common.

Ultrasound safety

If you’re wondering whether ultrasound is safe, rest assured that routine ultrasound during pregnancy is generally considered safe, although experts at the Mayo Clinic caution it’s not to be used as a tool just for video or keepsake pictures. Tempted to make a video at a local ultrasound portrait studio? The FDA has warned consumers that technicians at such commercial facilities may not give you accurate or reliable information like your healthcare provider will, and in fact, may give you misleading and potentially risky information about the developing baby in your belly.

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Ultrasound is helpful to your healthcare providers in verifying that your pregnancy is progressing normally, calculating your baby’s gestational age and size (which is the most accurate in the first trimester but can vary by as much as 2 weeks after that). Ultrasound is used for investigating potential problems such as with your placenta and for guiding needle placement if you undergo amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling, which are tests your provider may recommend that check for genetic problems during prenatal care.

Ultrasound by Trimester

Here’s what you can expect regarding ultrasound during your pregnancy.

1st Trimester 2nd Trimester 3rd Trimester
Unless you have complicating factors, you’ll likely have to wait until the 2nd trimester for your first peek at baby. Ultrasounds in the 1st trimester are usually only performed to get an accurate gestational age of your pregnancy, to confirm a suspected high-risk pregnancy, to confirm the success of a pregnancy via IVF, or to reassure a woman who has had multiple miscarriages that the pregnancy is viable and progressing, for example. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for, the chance to see baby for the first time and to possibly learn whether baby’s a he or she. Your provider will also want to use ultrasound to take measurements, including baby’s, and to check the health and position of your placenta. Your amniotic fluid volume—how much water you’re carrying—will also be measured. If all remains well, this may be the only scan you receive during pregnancy. As your pregnancy nears its end you may undergo ultrasound if baby is breech or if his or her size isn’t measuring accurately against the expected gestational age ranges. If you experience complications, your provider may request a scan to check your baby, placenta and fluid volume.

The Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) promotes the health of women and newborns.

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