Ultrasounds in pregnancy. Risks and benefits.
Sonography or Ultrasound Examination — is a diagnostic technique. It is generally used in all branches of medicine, including obstetrics. Ultrasound is the most secure and cost-effective method for diagnosing pregnancy and identification of various abnormalities in fetal development.
On the monitor of an ultrasound machine one can see a fetus in motion. The doctor can measure the main parameters of your baby and indicate the exact pregnancy duration.
How many ultrasounds during pregnancy do I need?
If your pregnancy is unexceptional, you’ll need 3 ultrasounds during pregnancy.
The best timeframes for ultrasound examinations are:
- 12−13 weeks,
- 22−23 weeks,
- 31−32 weeks.
This schedule allows to identify the widest range of possible fetal diseases and complications and to determine further medical tactics.
At 12−13 weeks pregnant, you’ll have the first genetic analysis. With the help of sonogram, professionals can evaluate several important points such as fetal anatomical features and the thickness of the neck area, which are Down syndrome markers.
At 22−23 weeks pregnant, your doctors can already diagnose a vast number of possible defects in brain, heart, kidney, liver and gastrointestinal tract.
At 31−32 weeks pregnant, ultrasound can diagnose late malformations of internal organs. Doctors also determine the baby size and his position, which are important for future delivery.
Learn even more about ultrasound schedule during pregnancy.
Dangers of ultrasound during pregnancy.
Absolute safety of ultrasound in pregnancy is a fundamental issue that determines the widespread use of this method. Numerous clinical trials studied the effect of ultrasound on baby development in utero, and they proved the fact of the full safety of ultrasound. Despite this, many young expectant mothers are afraid of possible risks. Don’t be afraid!
Ultrasound is safe because:
- During ultrasound session, no radioactive rays are used.
- Ultrasonic waves are frequent sound vibrations. They give out little energy, which cannot damage your baby even at very long exposure.
- Ultrasound doesn’t cause any malformations, however, it may help in early detection of possible health risks.
Possible risk of ultrasound during pregnancy.
During ultrasound session, your baby doesn’t feel pain or anything of the sort. Still sometimes, he feels some discomfort and a strong desire to hide from the unknown danger. After the 25th week, when babies begin to sleep in utero, your baby won’t even wake up during ultrasound. Informational benefits of ultrasound are not comparable with the temporary discomfort of your baby.
- Left-handed baby.
According to the results of a Swedish study, frequent ultrasound in the prenatal period can lead to left-handedness. I can’t believe this is serious.
- Unknown effects in early pregnancy.
As you know, in the early stages of pregnancy everything that happens with his mother affects the fetus. That is why you should minimize any impact (including ultrasound) on your tiny baby in the first and most vulnerable trimester of pregnancy. Too many ultrasounds during pregnancy can be too stressful for your developing fetus.
Physicians began to apply ultrasound (echography) in obstetrics relatively recently — in the second half of the XX century. Up to this time, gynecologists assess fetal development basing on the current health condition of the mother-to-be. The appearance of ultrasound has opened up new possibilities in obstetrics practice. Complete tracking of all stages of pregnancy, examination of internal and external organs of the baby in utero allows to detect congenital abnormalities, disposable before the birth. Every year ultrasound diagnostics is becoming more popular, which has a highly positive effect on the percentage of healthy newborns.
Why have ultrasound during pregnancy?
Ultrasound is the most affordable method, which is used in obstetrics and gynecology with the following objectives:
- Confirmation of pregnancy.
The first signs of pregnancy can be registered using ultrasound when the diameter of the ovum is only 2−3mm, which corresponds to the 4th week of pregnancy. The fetus becomes visible at about 5 weeks pregnant. During the early detection of pregnancy, an important point is to identify the place of ovum attachment, which must be in the uterine cavity. The presence of the ovum outside the uterus (in a fallopian tube, cervix or abdominal cavity) means an ectopic pregnancy and requires immediate termination.
In addition, early ultrasound can detect multiple pregnancy.
- Assessment of fetal viability.
Ultrasound can detect fetal viability or diagnose fetal death. An important point here is the assessment of heartbeats. The tiny fetal heart begins to beat in the 5th week of pregnancy but the heartbeat is clearly detected only in the 7th week. In healthy pregnancy, the heart rate of the fetus is 90 — 110 beats per minute. Less than 90 beats means the risk of miscarriage.
- Determianation of gestational age and fetus size.
Many women with irregular menstrual cycles do not know the approximate date of conception. Ultrasound determines the gestational age. Measuring fetus size allows to keep track of its intrauterine development.
- Determination of gender.
Evident gender characteristics of the baby become visible after 20 weeks of pregnancy or even earlier. The accuracy of sex determinination is about 90%.
If you don’t want to know the sex of your baby, you must inform the doctor before starting the ultrasound session because many doctors report this news without demand.
- Diagnosis of fetal anomalies.
Using ultrasound doctors can identify many structural anomalies of the fetus — hydrocephalus, anencephaly, myelomeningocele, spina bifida, malformations of the heart and many others.
- Determination of the place of placenta attachment.
Using ultrasound doctors define the location and development of your placenta. They can diagnose placenta previa (too low location of the placenta in relation to the cervix).
- Determination of the amniotic fluid amount.
Amniotic fluid is where your baby dwells. The enlarged amount of the amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios) or its decrease (oligohydramnios) may indicate the presence of certain abnormalities in fetal development.
Thus, ultrasound is an indispensable tool for tracking your pregnancy in progress. It allows to evaluate all the important parameters of fetal development. The ultrasound diagnosis during pregnancy is the key to the health of the mother and future baby.