Ultrasound - Sonogram

An ultrasound is a process that allows you to get the first glimpse of your developing baby. Ultrasound pictures have been used in obstetrics -- a process that's called obstetric sonography -- since approximately the mid-1960s. Now it's standard practice for most pregnant women to get a baby ultrasound regardless of whether they choose a midwife or doctor as their healthcare practitioner. They're so common because they're the easiest way to see how well your baby is developing and if there are any problems with your child's development or the development of your placenta.

How Ultrasounds Work

In the simplest explanation, an ultrasound is a procedure where high frequency waves scan an area to create an image. Ultrasounds are commonly used in the medical community to diagnose a variety of potential problems. When used in obstetrics the scan is done of the pelvic cavity and abdomen of the women to create picture (called a sonogram) that's pulled up on a monitor by the ultrasound technician. If taken past 10 weeks the technician is often able to tell you if you'll be having a baby girl or a baby boy. Sometimes it's difficult to tell the gender because of the position of the baby.

Technicians go through extensive post secondary training in an ultrasound school where they learn the latest technology in diagnostic digital imaging and ultrasound therapy. Many take additional training throughout their careers to keep up-to-date on technological changes. While they are trained to analyze images of your developing baby it's usually your doctor or midwife who will examine the sonograms and tell you the results. It's common not to hear anything about the results of the ultrasound pregnancy unless there's something wrong with the fetus.

Types of Pregnancy Ultrasounds

There are approximately seven types of obstetric ultrasounds although most women only get the standard ultrasound. It's common to get a single ultrasound around 20 weeks although you'll get one earlier if twins or medical issues are suspected. Multiple pregnancies require more ultrasounds to monitor the development of the fetuses. The same holds true if any medical issues are suspected or determined. There is no set guideline for ultrasound frequency within the medical community.

The standard ultrasound generates 2-D images of your developing baby after the technician uses a transducer over your gel-covered abdominal region. An advanced ultrasound is the same procedure but uses more sophisticated equipment to target a specific problem. A transvaginal scan is done by inserting a probe transducer into the vagina and is typically done earlier in pregnancy when a standard ultrasound might not generate clear enough images.

Fetal echocardiography is used only if there are suspected congenital heart defects. It uses ultrasound waves to examine the baby's heart anatomy. A Doppler ultrasound is another specialty ultrasound that measures the smallest changing in ultrasound waves as they bounce off of blood cells and other miniscule moving objects. A 3-D ultrasound creates 3-D images of the baby. These along with 4-D or Dynamic 3-D ultrasounds are popular by expecting parents for creating first baby pictures that actually look like a baby, but they're not used as often for medical diagnostics.

Are They Dangerous?

There have been no studies indicating that ultrasounds are harmful to the mother or developing fetus. It's considered a non-invasive procedure that has many medical benefits by determining any fetal malformations or placenta problems earlier in a pregnancy so precautions can be taken to protect the baby during labor and delivery. Many in the medical community recommend that ultrasounds should only be done if medically required since no one knows the long term affects of repeated ultrasound exposures on the developing baby.

Ultrasound History

Ultrasounds are often considered to be a medical SONAR. SONAR is an acronym for Sound Navigation and Ranging and has been used by physics as earlier as the 1820s. Medically ultrasound used didn't make a breakthrough in 1958 when Scottish doctor and professor of midwifery Ian Donald used it to investigate "abdominal masses." He published his findings in the leading medical journal The Lancet in 1958 under the title of "Investigation of Abdominal Masses by Pulsed Ultrasound." The first commercial ultrasound scanner was launched in 1963 by William Wright, Joseph Holmes and Ralph Meyerdirk with the support of the University of Colorado and the US Public Health Services.


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