Prenatal ultrasounds help you track how your baby is growing and give you the first sweet glimpses of your little one. Here’s what you can expect from these visits.

Your Health, Women's Health | 21 days ago

Ultrasounds: Seeing Your Baby for the Very First Time

Prenatal ultrasounds help you track how your baby is growing and give you the first sweet glimpses of your little one. Here’s what you can expect from these visits.

Editor’s Note: This is a shortened version of an article featured in Atrium Health’s “Your Guide to Pregnancy & Motherhood.” To read more, get your free copy of the guide!


If you’re pregnant, there’s a good chance this is the first time you’ve had an ultrasound. Not to worry – prenatal ultrasounds have been around for decades and are completely safe for both mom and baby. They use sound waves to detect your baby’s image and let your doctor analyze their size, position and movements.

In fact, ultrasounds can be one of the most exciting parts of any pregnancy, says Clara Croce, MD, an OB/GYN at Atrium Health NorthEast Women’s Health & Obstetrics - Concord . Not only do they help doctors track your baby’s development, but they give you the first sweet glimpses of your little one.

Here’s a quick look at what you need to know about prenatal ultrasounds.

Transvaginal vs. Transabdominal

There are two ways to perform prenatal ultrasounds: transvaginal and transabdominal. “Almost always, you’ll have a transvaginal ultrasound in the early scans,” says Dr. Croce.

During a transvaginal ultrasound, a lubricated, wand-shaped tool is gently inserted into the vagina and uses sound waves to get images of your baby. During a transabdominal ultrasound, warm gel is applied to your abdomen; also through sound waves, images of your baby are produced when a small tool is lightly swiped across your abdomen.

One of the biggest differences between the two types of ultrasounds is image quality: Transvaginal ultrasounds tend to create clearer, more detailed images and can better detect any complications. But transabdominal ultrasounds have benefits of their own, like being slightly less invasive and giving you a big picture look at your abdomen as a whole.

The early ultrasounds only take 10 to 30 minutes but are very important. They reveal how far along your pregnancy is, helping your doctor determine your baby’s gestational age, and they can detect the first signs of problems or miscarriages. These early tests let you know if you’re having one baby – or multiple. And you even get the chance to hear your baby’s heartbeat for the very first time!

All About Anatomy Ultrasounds

While your first ultrasounds mostly assess your baby’s age and size, your anatomy ultrasound takes an even closer look at your baby’s growth and development. It’s usually performed between 18 and 22 weeks of pregnancy. “We look at the placenta and fluid. And we measure the baby’s weight to make sure they’re growing at a healthy pace,” says Dr. Croce.

From the anatomy ultrasound, your doctor will also be able to see how your baby is positioned and what their sex is (if you want).

As your baby grows, your care team will watch them closely for any other genetic abnormalities, including cleft lip and palate and spina bifida. But ultrasounds aren’t just for your infant – they’re for you, too. Your doctor will examine your uterus and ovaries and make sure your amniotic fluid levels haven’t increased or decreased over the course of your pregnancy.

One Last Thing on Ultrasounds

These days, 3-dimensional and 4-dimensional ultrasounds are all the rage. And while they’re fun and perfectly safe, they should never take the place of medical ultrasounds from your doctor. “If you want to get a 3D or 4D ultrasound for fun, you can,” says Dr. Croce. “But they aren’t medical ultrasounds. They won’t be able to detect any issues with your newborn.”

Most importantly, just remember that ultrasounds have been around for years and are extremely safe. And because they use sound waves, there’s no risk of exposure to anything that might harm you or your baby. So, as you prepare for your first ultrasound, don’t worry – just enjoy this amazing opportunity to see and get to know your baby as they continue to grow.

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