Ultrasound in Pregnancy
You are pregnant. Your health-care provider suggests you have an ultrasound. Learn more about it.
Ultrasound can tell you—and your health-care provider—many things about your baby, such as:
• the size of the baby
• how well the baby’s heart works
• how well other organs (such as the spine, brain and kidneys) are growing
• the anticipated date of birth
The moving pictures from the ultrasound machine are like a movie. The pictures appear on a computer screen.
Ultrasound is different from x-rays because it does not use radiation. This makes it safer for you and your baby. Ultrasound is used in many areas of medicine.
• the number of babies
• whether the baby ’s size is right for his/her age
• how the baby’s internal organs are growing
• whether the placenta (afterbirth) is in the correct place
• whether there are problems with the mother's uterus, fallopian tubes or ovaries
Experts in Canada recommend that all women have an ultrasound when they are pregnant. The best time to do this is between 18 and 22 weeks of pregnancy.
You might be asked to have ultrasound at other times during your pregnancy. Your health-care provider may suggest this:
• to see what position the baby is in
• to check the placenta (afterbirth)
• to view how much fluid is around the baby
• to check the baby’s growth and well-being
• to check for signs of a possible genetic problem
The person who does the ultrasound is called an ultrasonographer. Once you are lying down on the examining table, clear gel will be put on your skin. The gel allows the transducer to move easily on your skin and helps the sound waves to transmit into your body. You may feel light pressure on your tummy but no pain. An ultrasound exam takes about 30 minutes. If more tests are needed, it could take longer.
Sometimes, the ultrasound must be done through the vagina (birth passage). A special kind of transducer is placed into your vagina. Most women feel no pain during this type of ultrasound.
For most pregnant women, ultrasound assures them that their baby is healthy and all is well. Sadly, for a few, the ultrasound will find signs that all is not normal. Remember that the screening test only indicates an increased chance for concern and cannot tell you for sure if the baby does have a specific condition.
Your health- care provider will be told if the ultrasound shows any signs of abnormality. They will discuss this with you. You may be referred to a centre that has expert doctors with experience in the field of fetal abnormalities.
The clarity of the pictures depends on the ultrasound equipment and how well the ultrasound can pass through the mother’s abdomen. For example, ultrasound will be less clear when the mother’s abdomen is thick or scarred.
Health Canada regulates ultrasounds in Canada through two laws: the Medical Devices Regulations of the Food and Drugs Act and the Radiation Emitting D evices Act. This helps to ensure that ultrasounds are safe when used for medical reasons.
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and Health Canada have produced guidelines on diagnostic ultrasound. They state that ultrasound should not be used for any of these reasons:
• to have a picture of the baby, solely for non-medical reasons
• to learn the sex of the baby, solely for non-medical reasons
• for commercial use, such as trade shows or making videos of a baby
Ultrasound must be used carefully to ensure that mothers and their babies benefit from what it offers.
If your health-care provider recommends that you have an ultrasound, make sure you know:
• why it is needed
• the risks that may be involved
• how it will be done
To learn more about ultrasound, visit these websites:1. Health Canada www.hc-sc.gc.ca
2. Canadian Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers www.csdms.com