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When Do You Get Your First Ultrasound Picture?

by Liza Blau, studioD

An ultrasound picture can be one of the most thrilling moments of your pregnancy. For the first time, you'll be able to see an image of the developing fetus, even as early as 6 weeks. An ultrasound employs sound waves to produce a picture of your growing baby in the uterus. It allows your doctor to rule out possible birth defects, health problems or anatomical abnormalities. Your doctor might advise you to have an early ultrasound or recommend that you wait until the more common mid-pregnancy ultrasound.

An Early Peek

Your doctor might recommend an early ultrasound, typically between 6 to 9 weeks. Such early ultrasounds are usually advised if you're experiencing vaginal bleeding during the first weeks of pregnancy, if you've previously miscarried or if your doctor believes there might be complications with the pregnancy. At this early stage, the fetus is still very small so your doctor most likely will use a transvaginal ultrasound to obtain the best image. A wand-like transducer probe is inserted into your vagina, which sends sound waves through the uterus and back to a machine that translates the sound waves into an image of the developing fetus. Your doctor will listen to the heartbeat of the fetus, estimate his age and check for any fetal abnormalities.

Ready For His Close-Up

Most pregnant women receive their first ultrasound at around 20 weeks, according to WebMD. During a transabdominal ultrasound, your doctor will cover your abdomen with a thin layer of gel that acts as a conductor to help promote the best image quality. He'll then move a small hand-held transducer back and forth across your belly. The transducer transmits high-frequency sound waves into your uterus that bounce off the developing baby and are sent to a machine that converts those waves into pictures. On a nearby monitor, you'll be able to see an image of your baby and typically be able to make out his arms, legs, hands and learn his gender. Your doctor will examine the ultrasound image to ensure the baby's organs and limbs are developing properly.

Holding it In

When you schedule the appointment for your first transabdominal ultrasound, ask your doctor if your need to arrive with a full bladder. Sound waves tend to travel more efficiently through liquid and a full bladder can often create better ultrasound images. For that reason, you might be asked to drink four to six glasses of liquid one hour before the ultrasound. You'll most likely be asked to refrain from urinating until after the ultrasound -- a full bladder keeps pockets of air from developing in your bladder, which can adversely affect image quality. If you'll be receiving a transvaginal ultrasound, your bladder should be either partly full or empty, according to the March of Dimes.

Handling the Results

Ultrasound imaging can provide you with information about your unborn baby that might not have been accessible before the technology was developed. If the ultrasound shows that your baby has a health problem, it gives you time to work with your doctor to determine the best course of action. For example, the ultrasound might reveal that your baby is breech, allowing your doctor to plan a cesarean section. If your baby has a health problem, it might be possible to treat her with medication or surgery before birth. You might be forced to make tough decisions for your unborn baby, such as medical intervention, preparing your home for a special needs child or, in rare cases, terminating the pregnancy. The good news is that the majority of babies are shown to be healthy and developing normally.

About the Author

Liza Blau received a B.A. in English from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in fiction anthologies from Penguin Press, W.W. Norton, NYU Press and others. After healing her own life-threatening asthma by switching to a whole, natural foods diet, she founded the NYC Asthma Wellness Center. Blau counsels individuals on healing their own asthma and allergies with dietary and lifestyle changes.

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