Standard ultrasounds provide your doctor with valuable information about your pregnancy. Ultrasound data enables your doctor to check your baby’s growth, track milestones, set a due date, determine if you’re carrying multiples, learn about the position of your placenta, detect abnormalities and tell you the sex of your little one.
But is it possible to overdo the testing? Just how many ultrasounds are needed over the course of nine months?
Ultrasounds are an exciting part of pregnancy. It’s miraculous seeing images of your baby in utero for the first time; receiving those first photos is truly a big highlight of pregnancy. And figuring out how many ultrasounds you’ll need is sure to be on your mind after you first get the news of your impending arrival.
What The Experts Say
How many ultrasounds a woman receives per trimester often depends on the state in which one lives and the practices of one’s doctor. Women should generally have at least one ultrasound during pregnancy, primarily around the 16th to 20th week mark, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
On average, however, women are receiving many more ultrasounds than that. According to data reported by The Wall Street Journal, women are averaging 5.2 ultrasounds per delivery, up 92 percent since 2004.
Having so many ultrasounds performed is often unnecessary. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends only getting one to two scans per low risk pregnancy. It is also important to note that insurance may or may not cover more than one ultrasound.
Jeffrey Ecker, M.D., chief of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells SELF Magazine that scanning frequently can cause undue stress.
“It’s important to have a specific question you’re trying to address,” he says. “If by chance someone thinks they see something off, it can cause unnecessary worry.”
“It’s actually not routine to scan at every visit,” Nancy Herta, M.D., an OB/GYN at Michigan State University, also shares with SELF. “They’ve done a lot of studies that it hasn’t improved the baby’s outcome or maternal outcomes. There’s not any medical benefit.”
Herta adds that doctors should measure a woman’s stomach, check the heartbeat and then determine if another ultrasound is needed.
Having frequent ultrasounds may also not be ideal for baby.
Dr. Jeffrey A. Kuller, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Duke University Medical Center, says fetal ultrasounds are considered safe when used infrequently during pregnancy, but the long-term side effects of having a higher number of ultrasounds can’t be sufficiently determined.
This is because scientists do not want to put a fetus at risk when studying the effects of ultrasounds.
When Should I Get Ultrasounds?
Ultrasound recommendations according to the ACOG are:
- If doing an early ultrasound, it should be given around 10 to 12 weeks to determine whether the pregnancy is viable and when baby is expected to arrive. During this scan doctors will check to confirm the baby’s heartbeat and if there is definitely a uterine pregnancy.
- Around 18 weeks, it has been advised to obtain an anatomy scan to screen for fetal growth, organ abnormalities and placenta location.
During the last trimester, women who suffer from gestational diabetes may receive Doppler fetal monitoring – an exam that also uses ultrasound and bounces high-frequency sound waves off red blood cells circulating through the system in order to measure blood flow, blood pressure and determine if baby is receiving enough blood.
What To Expect From Ultrasounds
Ultrasounds in First Trimester
As mentioned above, your first ultrasound, also known as a sonogram, can sometimes take place when you are around six to eight weeks pregnant. At this appointment, your baby is very tiny, so your ob-gyn will do a transvaginal test to get a better picture. At the end of the test you will receive the first black and white image of your growing baby.
This first ultrasound is important because it checks baby’s heartbeat and estimates age. Your doctor will also most likely be able to tell you a potential due date and also rule out multiples or an ectopic pregnancy.
Women will also be offered an optional nuchal translucency (NT) test that can be preformed between the 11th and 13th week. This test, which will include another ultrasound, will evaluate your risk for having a baby with chromosomal abnormalities or heart defects.
Ultrasounds in Second Trimester
A detailed ultrasound will occur between 18 and 20 weeks of pregnancy. This ultrasound is also called an anatomy scan and lasts up to 45 minutes.
Gel will be placed on your abdomen and a plastic transducer will glide over your belly, transmitting high-frequency sound waves through your uterus that will bounce off your baby and send signals back to a machine that will turn the reflections into black and white images.
The views you get in are amazing! I’ll never forget when I had this ultrasound done at around week 20 of my pregnancy. The photos we received were unbelievable and we were also able to watch our little one live on-screen for a few moments.
Be sure to ask lots of questions about what you are seeing on the screen! This is the most important checkup your baby will have. Your doctor will check baby’s heart rate and look for abnormalities in the vital organs – the brain, heart, liver and kidneys.
Fingers and toes will be counted, amniotic fluid levels measured, the placenta will be examined and your doctor will also check for birth defects. Some scans at this stage also offer 3-D views of your baby, which can even depict baby’s nose and bone structure! If you’d like, you’ll be able to find out the sex of your baby.
If you don’t want to know, be sure to let the technician know ahead of time! My husband and I asked the technician to write our baby’s sex on a piece of paper and seal in it an envelope. We had the opportunity to open it later, in private, and found out we were having a little girl. It was a sweet moment.
Ultrasounds in Third Trimester
Many women receive the last ultrasound at their 20-week anatomy scan. However, if you are past your due date or are over the age of 35, your doctor might want to keep an eye on your little one with fetal heart-rate monitoring.
He or she will also periodically assess amniotic fluid levels and make sure the placenta is functioning properly, so additional ultrasounds may be necessary.
Remember to take good care of photos you receive, as they are delicate!
Check out these unique ways to preserve ultrasound photos.