During a normal, healthy pregnancy, you should only have a few ultrasounds. The first will be to confirm pregnancy. During this scan, your baby will appear more as a jelly bean or a peanut with no discernible human features. However, somewhere between 18 and 20 weeks gestation, your OB/GYN will order an anatomy scan. The anatomy scan is one of the most important tests conducted during your pregnancy, as well as one of the most exciting as you will get a glimpse of the baby you are growing, and sometimes you can’t even feel it yet! As you may have guessed, your ultrasound technician is not as interested in getting a framable profile of your growing baby’s face or finding out the sex of your baby (although both will happen at this appointment if you so wish!), they are performing a series of tests and measurements to track your baby’s growth and development. Here is an overview of what the ultrasound technician is looking for at your appointment.
It is important to note that just because it takes a long time — sometimes upward of an hour — or the technician continues to look at one area or feature, it does not mean anything is wrong; sometimes baby doesn’t cooperate or allow the technician to get a clear image right away! It is also important to note that your ultrasound technician will not be able to tell you any results (except the sex) at the ultrasound appointment, your radiologist or neonatologist will review the images and send the results to your OB/GYN, who will discuss the results with you within a few days.
Mom’s anatomy is important to look at when growing a baby to ensure that the environment is ideal for supporting the growth, development, and delivery of your baby. The technician will get a look at your ovaries, cervix, and uterine wall — which, by this point is stretching nicely — as well as the positioning of the placenta. As part of the placenta, the technician will check that the umbilical cord is attached to placenta and baby normally and that it has three blood vessels. The tech will also check the amount of amniotic sac to make sure that baby can move around freely.
The ultrasound tech will take several measurements of your baby’s head and brain. Head circumference measurements are used to date how old your baby is and whether or not your baby is growing slower, faster, or right on track with other babies at the same gestational age. The technician will be assessing the fluid-filled spaces inside the brain as well as the shape of the brain and cerebellum. This gives your doctor a good idea of how the baby is developing.
Of course, you want to see your baby’s face to get an idea of what he or she will look like once born, but remember your baby will be right about a pound at this point and features will not be visible through the ultrasound. You’ll be able to see the dark spaces that are the eyes and the shape of the nose and lips. Your technician will also be looking at the lips and hard palate to see if the baby has a cleft lip or palate. Only approximately one out of every 600 babies are born with either a cleft lip, cleft palate, or both, and in the United States, repair is nearly undetectable once it is healed. While there is nothing that can be done in utero and it will not hurt your baby, knowing about it before the baby is born will allow your medical team to prepare to correct it once the baby is born.
The ultrasound technician will spend quite a bit of time looking at your baby’s heart because congenital heart defects are one of the leading causes of birth defects and infant death. Identifying issues in utero can help doctors help your baby have the best outcome possible. Your technician will check to make sure that there are four chambers and that the heart rate is normal (120-180 bpm). The tech will look to make sure that the organs are in the right places and that everything appears to be working correctly.
The ultrasound tech will scan your baby’s back to ensure that the vertebrae are present and in alignment and that the spine is inside the skin of the back. The spine will be measured, which is also useful for dating purposes. This is usually a good time to see your baby in its full form and your technician may print a few keepsake photos.
As part of the anatomy scan, the tech will evaluate the baby’s stomach, diaphragm, kidneys, and bladder. The abdomen will be measured for dating. The images that the technician takes will allow the radiologist to visualize proper placement and size, as well as blood flow and whether the organ is functioning properly.
This is the part of the scan most parents wait anxiously for! Is baby going to allow you to visualize their reproductive organs to determine whether you are having a boy or girl? Try to remember that while most anatomy scans are fairly accurate, there is no 100 percent guarantee!
Lastly, the ultrasound tech will check all four limbs to ensure that all of the bones are present and will take measurements of the long bones, which is used to measure age. If the baby allows, the tech will take images of the hands and feet and count the number of fingers and toes.
All of this may seem overwhelming and scary, but it is better for you, baby, and your medical team to have this information early on. Most congenital issues that are identified on an anatomy scan, such as echogenic focus and brain cysts, are normal and may resolve by the end of pregnancy, but your medical team will want to keep an eye on it and prepare for intervention if the baby is born early. Some defects such as cleft lip or heart defect, if detected early, can be planned for and corrected when the baby is born. The anatomy scan is an exciting time where you get to peek in on your little one growing inside you. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to ask your ultrasound technician or your OB/GYN. For more information about ultrasounds or to schedule your anatomy scan, contact us at Touchstone Imaging today.