An ultrasound is a procedure that uses high frequency sound waves to scan the pelvic cavity and abdomen of a woman, and then creates a sonogram (a picture) of the placenta and the baby. The terms sonogram and ultrasound are technically very different. However, the two are used interchangeably.

An ultrasound exam can be performed at any point during the pregnancy period. The results of an ultrasound are immediately seen on a monitor when the procedure is being carried out. To diagnose molar pregnancies or diagnose a potential ectopic pregnancy, transvaginal scans may be performed during the early stages of pregnancy. Read to learn when you need to have your first ultrasound done and what precautions you should bear in mind.

When Is the First Ultrasound Done During Pregnancy?

As part of parental care, ultrasounds have become very common and regular. In the early stages of pregnancy, ultrasounds are used to confirm a uterine pregnancy and fetal heartbeat. Ultrasounds that are performed during the later stages of pregnancy are used to screen for placenta location, umbilical cord and fetal growth. Later ultrasounds are also used to screen for the baby’s anatomy and general health. They are also used to check the length of your cervix when there is any suspicion that you might be in preterm labor.

When to have your first scan depends on where you live and how your pregnancy is going. Below is the detailed timing and description of pregnancy scans in early pregnancy:

1. Early Scan

When is it carried out: If you have experienced some problems such as bleeding in the first weeks of your pregnancy or you have previously suffered a miscarriage, you may be recommended to take an early scan. An early scan takes placebetween 6 weeks and 10 weeks of pregnancy. Your midwife can refer you for an early scan if she thinks that there is need to. Many hospitals have early pregnancy clinics, which are open daily.

What happens in the process: An early scan is most of the time carried out as a vaginal scan, rather than through your tummy. This is because when compared to an abdominal scan, a vaginal scan can give a clearer picture of your baby during the early stages of pregnancy.

Asking a close friend to come along with you or having a female doctor to carry out the scan may make your less nervous about the experience.

2. Dating Scan

When is it carried out: When there are no problems, you will have to undergo two ultrasounds during your pregnancy. A dating scan will be the first scan that you undergo. The scan is booked atbetween 10 weeks and 13 weeks plus six days of pregnancy.

What happens in the process: During this scan, the sonographer will apply gel on your tummy and move a hand-held device over your skin. The device is called a transducer. You will be able to see a view of your baby. The scan will measure your baby’s crown ramp length. This is the length of your baby from head to bottom.

The dating scan will also show whether you are carrying one baby, twins or more, and at the same time check the heartbeat of your baby. A dating scan used as a more accurate way of establishing the date that you are due to give birth, than counting from the last monthly period.

3. First Trimester Combined Screening

During the time you receive your dating scan, you will also be offered a combined screening to check for any abnormalities. These consist of:

  • Nuchal translucency scan. This estimates the possibility of your baby having downs syndrome. The scan is done through your tummy.
  • A blood test. This test detects the level of plasma protein-A (PAPP-A) and hormone human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG). Abnormal levels may indicate Down’s syndrome.

If during your dating scan you are found to be less than 11 weeks pregnant, then you can rebook your combined screening. If you are found to be more than 14 weeks pregnant, then you will be offered the quadruple test for the Down’s syndrome.

You can learn what a first-time ultrasound looks like by watching the video below:

More Notes on Ultrasound in the First Trimester

An ultrasound can be done in the office of your practitioner or in your local hospital. While lying on your back, a technician will rub a warm gel on your tummy. The gel allows the transducer to slide more easily on your belly. The gel also improves the transmission of sound waves into your body. An ultrasound causes no risk to your baby.

It may be necessary to use a vaginal probe if you want to have an ultrasound in the early stages of pregnancy. This allows the technologist to view your uterus through the cervix. This method can also be used to locate if your placenta is over the cervix later on in your pregnancy. It may also be used to measure the length of the cervix.

During the first trimester, your ultrasound can show the heart rate of your baby, the umbilical cord and the placenta. This ultrasound will also tell you if you have one baby or multiples. In the second trimester, the ultrasound can show you details of the face, fetal head, heart, spine, limbs and abdomen.

Video that shows ultrasound in first trimester of pregnancy:

Some Questions About Ultrasound You Might Want Answered

1. If you have an ultrasound during 6 to 8 weeks of pregnancy and there is no heartbeat detected, does that mean that there is a problem?

No. that doesn’t mean that there is a problem. There are many reasons as to why there might be no heartbeat detected. These reasons include larger abdomen, tipped uterus or inaccurate dating with last the period. Concern develops if there is no fetal heart activity in an embryo that has a crown length of more than 5mm. if there is no gestational sac during an ultrasound, your health care provider will start to get concerned.

2. When it comes to calculating the gestational age, how accurate is the ultrasound?

Your physician will use the date of your last period, hormone levels and results from an ultrasound that has been performed to estimate the date you are due. The accuracy of estimation is affected by your menstrual cycle but they are mostly close to the date that you’ll give birth.

3. When can an ultrasound determine the gender of the baby?

Between 18 to 20 weeks, an ultrasound can be used to evaluate dates, placenta locations, a multiple pregnancies or complications. An ultrasound can be used to determine the gender of your baby during this stage.

4. Are ultrasounds necessary as parts of parental care?

Ultrasounds are necessary only when there is a medical concern. Ultrasounds are used to evaluate the wellbeing of the baby, and diagnose possible complications.

5. What are the risks and side effects to the mother and the baby?

When properly done, an ultrasound procedure does not pose any threats. However, it is advised that an ultrasound be performed only if indicated medically.