Fetal ultrasound uses sound waves to make pictures of the fetus and placenta inside the uterus. The test is the safest way to find out the age, size, and position of your baby. During the test, a small handheld device called a transducer is passed over your belly. If ultrasound is done before the 11th week of pregnancy, a transducer shaped to fit inside your vagina may be used.
Fetal ultrasound is usually done at about 18 to 20 weeks of pregnancy. If you are sure of your last menstrual period and don't have any risk factors for birth defects, you probably don't need to have this test any earlier.
A combination of tests that includes ultrasound may be done during your first trimester to check for Down syndrome. This first-trimester screening test is different from the routine ultrasound that is usually done at about 18 weeks of pregnancy. It uses an ultrasound measurement of the thickness of the skin at the back of the baby's neck (nuchal translucency).
If your doctor recommends that you have an early fetal ultrasound (before 18 to 20 weeks), the test may give you some useful information.
The decision about what to do if you find out that you are carrying a baby with a severe defect is very personal. Some women who learn that their baby has a serious defect choose to end their pregnancy. Others make plans for raising a sick or disabled child.
Fetal ultrasound is a safe test when it's performed for medical reasons by a trained ultrasound technologist or a doctor.1
Abnormal results from an early fetal ultrasound can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. For example:
Some "keepsake video" centers sell ultrasound videos as your baby's first photo. But these centers may use the ultrasound machine at a higher energy level and for longer times than is safe. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration advises against getting a fetal ultrasound unless there is a medical reason.
If you don't have an early ultrasound, there is a slight chance that you may not find out until later that:
Your doctor may recommend an early ultrasound if:
|Have early fetal ultrasound||Don't have early fetal ultrasound|
|What is usually involved?|
|What are the benefits?|
|What are the risks and side effects?|
Are you interested in what others decided to do? Many people have faced this decision. These personal stories may help you decide.
These stories are based on information gathered from health professionals and consumers. They may be helpful as you make important health decisions.
"Raoul and I talked for a long time about this pregnancy and what having a baby would mean to us. For personal reasons, we would not choose to end the pregnancy if there was a problem with the baby. So we decided not to do any prenatal diagnostic tests unless something goes wrong. We trust that whether the baby is perfect or not, it will be the baby (or babies!) that we are meant to have. Our families think that our approach is a little unusual, but we are both comfortable with our decision."
— Rita, age 24
"I guess that you could call me a bit of a worrywart. I just know that I will feel better if I can actually see the baby on the monitor and see its little heart beating and have that one more bit of information to reassure me that everything is okay."
— Rachel, age 33
"My sister had a healthy baby boy last spring after spending most of her pregnancy worrying that everything was not okay with the baby. She had an ultrasound that showed a cyst in the baby's brain. The cyst went away, and her doctor said that they are really common and almost never cause a problem, but the whole experience was really stressful for her and her husband. At one point they even wondered if they should end the pregnancy. So now that I'm pregnant, I feel torn. If there is a problem, I think I would want to know, but a false alarm would be so stressful! I think the worry would be worse for me and the baby than any problem."
— Melissa, age 32
"I read a lot about prenatal testing, including ultrasound, so I know what it can and can't show about the baby. My doctor says that because of my age and our family histories, there is very little chance that there are any problems with the baby (although we understand that no one can ever be sure about this). So I know there really isn't any reason to have the ultrasound ... but this is the only child we plan to have, and I want to have the whole pregnancy experience, ultrasound and all."
— Julie, age 25
Your personal feelings are just as important as the medical facts. Think about what matters most to you in this decision, and show how you feel about the following statements.
Reasons to have an early fetal ultrasound
Reasons not to have an early fetal ultrasound
I need to know exactly how long I've been pregnant.
I already know how long I've been pregnant.
I want to find out now if my baby has any birth defects.
I don't need to know right now if my baby has birth defects.
I'm worried about some of my pregnancy symptoms, like bleeding.
I don't have any unusual symptoms.
I want to have an early picture of my baby to show my friends and family.
I don't want to have a test I don't need.
My other important reasons:
My other important reasons:
Now that you've thought about the facts and your feelings, you may have a general idea of where you stand on this decision. Show which way you are leaning right now.
Having an early fetal ultrasound
NOT having an early fetal ultrasound
1. If you're curious about what your baby looks like, is it okay to get an early fetal ultrasound?
2. Are bleeding or abnormal results from another test reasons to have an early fetal ultrasound?
3. If a problem is seen on early ultrasound, can you be sure it is serious and important?
1. Do you understand the options available to you?
2. Are you clear about which benefits and side effects matter most to you?
3. Do you have enough support and advice from others to make a choice?
1. How sure do you feel right now about your decision?
2. Check what you need to do before you make this decision.
3. Use the following space to list questions, concerns, and next steps.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||William Gilbert, MD - Maternal and Fetal Medicine|