Most women expect to receive at least one ultrasound during pregnancy. While the couple expecting a child look forward to the ultrasound as an opportunity to see their baby for the first time and often to learn whether they are having a girl or a boy, the doctor views the ultrasound as an opportunity to ensure that the fetus is healthy and developing properly. The doctor can use information from the ultrasound to determine the gestational age of the fetus, check the heartbeat and look for congenital problems with the baby.
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A standard ultrasound is the most common type performed during pregnancy. The technician holds a wand shaped transducer and rubs it over the stomach to produce two-dimensional pictures of the baby. If the doctor has any reason to suspect problems with the fetus, he may ask the technician to perform an advanced ultrasound. In an advanced ultrasound, the doctor points out areas of concern and the technician pays particular attention to those area.
In the case of a high risk pregnancy or if the mother is experiencing health issues, the obstetrician may want to perform an ultrasound earlier than a standard ultrasound. In these cases, a transvaginal ultrasound is used. The technician inserts the transducer into the vagina to perform the scan. Once the pregnancy reaches ten weeks, the obstetrician will typically choose a standard ultrasound.
This ultrasound assesses potential problems with the development and anatomy of the baby's heart and diagnoses any suspected heart defects. The obstetrician may recommend a fetal echocardiograph if he sees something suspicious on the standard ultrasound. He may also recommend a fetal echocardiograph if the patient or her partner has a history of cardiac abnormalities or the doctor notices irregularity in the fetal heartbeat. The technician can perform fetal echocardiographs either vaginally or through the abdomen.
A 3-D ultrasound uses computer software along with a specially designed transducer to generate a more complete picture of the baby. The transducer takes images in a series of slices which, when transmitted to the computer, form a three dimensional picture.
Dynamic 3-D Ultrasound
Often called a 4-D ultrasound, this ultrasound uses specially designed transducers to give a more realistic view of the baby. Parents enjoy seeing the dynamic 3-D ultrasounds because they can see their baby in action. The doctor and parents can watch the baby move in the uterus. While 3-D and dynamic 3-D ultrasounds are fun for the parent, they offer no diagnostic advantage over standard ultrasounds.