As an expectant mother, heading to your first ultrasound can be exciting—but also nerve-wracking. You might have a lot of questions. What is the procedure like? Is it painful? What exactly are the doctors looking for? If you’re wondering what to expect at your first ultrasound appointment, continue reading below for a simple outline of the process.
When Should You Get Your First Ultrasound?
The first ultrasound is generally a component of your first prenatal visit, which occurs between six and twelve weeks of pregnancy. Some healthcare providers will reserve this type of ultrasound—an early pregnancy ultrasound—for women presenting symptoms of a high-risk pregnancy.
If you don’t get an ultrasound within the first two months of pregnancy, then the next type of ultrasound occurs between weeks 10 and 13. The farther along you are in pregnancy the better the visual you will have with the ultrasound.
What’s the Procedure Like?
Once you make your appointment, your doctor will give you a general list of pre-ultrasound instructions. To make the process simpler, you’ll likely need to arrive with a full bladder. The sound waves used in ultrasound penetrate better through liquid. Since fetuses are hard to detect in the early stages of pregnancy, a higher-quality scan is necessary.
Wearing a two-piece outfit, preferably with a skirt, is the best option, as it will allow the ultrasound probe or transducer better access to the places it needs to reach. It also means you’re less likely to need to change or strip.
There are two traditional types of ultrasounds designed for pregnancy.
For your first appointment, you’re probably going to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound. Examining the uterus through the cervix is far easier than attempting to find the pea-sized fetus through bone, skin, and muscle. The procedure isn’t painful, but like with any pelvic exam, you might find it uncomfortable.
If you’re further along, you’ll have a transabdominal ultrasound instead. This procedure is when your care provider smears cool, clear jelly across your stomach and uses a transducer to form images of your child. Like the transvaginal ultrasound, the procedure is painless—but for some, it’s ticklish.
What Will You Learn About Your Baby?
Ultrasounds can reveal a great deal of information about your unborn baby. If your first ultrasound is an early pregnancy ultrasound, your care provider will be able to determine a due date and whether you’re carrying multiples.
At a dating ultrasound, doctors reveal the same. They’ll also check the fetal heartbeat, determine your baby’s crown-rump length (which helps to identify possible developmental issues), and evaluate the likelihood of birth abnormalities like Down syndrome.
If you’re wondering what else your appointment has the potential to reveal, read up on the accuracy of ultrasound at predicting things like your child’s gender, size, and health.
Knowing what to expect at your first ultrasound appointment can make the experience easier, so head in prepared. If you have questions about your pregnancy, ask your doctor before, during, or upon the conclusion of your exam.
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