What to Expect At Your First Ultrasound

by Jill Taylor on June 21, 2013

in Pregnancy

ultrasoundWhen you see the outline of your baby’s profile or little limbs moving around, it truly brings the miracle of pregnancy to life.  It’s usually at your first ultrasound when the reality of having a baby sets in.

I remember when I was pregnant and I got my first look at my daughter when she was only nine weeks old. The doctor pointed out she was only the size of a small grape, and to be able to look at her so small and know that she was growing inside of me, truly opened my eyes to pregnancy. I took the ultrasound pictures home, hung them on my refrigerator and marveled at the whole experience.

What is an Ultrasound?

If you’re expecting a baby and are unsure what an ultrasound is, Christopher Birkholz, MD specializes in obstetrics and gynecology at Scott & White Temple Clinic and is here to walk you through the process.

“An ultrasound is my favorite tool in the clinic and usually the best part of any prenatal visit.” Dr. Birkholz says.

An ultrasound is the clearest way to directly look at your baby, and is a quick, painless process to get information on your baby’s health. Dr. Birkholz uses this sonogram device to detect high frequency sound waves to create an image of the woman’s womb.

When Is My First Ultrasound?

Your first ultrasound will be at your first visit with your doctor. Dr. Birkholz says you should establish prenatal care as soon as you find out you are pregnant to make sure your baby is growing and developing properly.

“Early ultrasounds are very exciting for patients because they can clearly see their baby early in development,” says Dr. Birkholz.

Not only do you get a closer look at your baby, an early ultrasound also helps your doctor get a better idea of the exact age and potential due date of the fetus.

“An ultrasound is first used in your pregnancy to confirm the due date or how far along you are in the pregnancy,” says Dr. Birkholz. “A heartbeat can usually be detected at six weeks, just six weeks after you started your last menstrual cycle, when your baby is less than the size of a peanut!”

What Should I Expect?

Seeing your baby on ultrasound makes the pregnancy real and everyone responds differently.

When everything looks normal on the ultrasound, it is usually a positive experience and a time to reflect on the miracle of pregnancy.  Sometimes the pregnancy was not planned and this can bring on other emotions such as fear. This is a good time to share your thoughts with your provider and discuss concerns you may have.

“It is painless, and should be an enjoyable experience to see your baby,” says Dr. Birkholz. “If there are unexpected findings, then being nervous is a normal feeling.”

Your physician will counsel you on the findings and walk you through a plan for follow up.

Who Can Come Along?

It is a good idea and you are welcome to bring along support for your ultrasound. If it is a positive experience, it is a time to share the joy and bond with your baby. If the results are unexpected, it is helpful to have someone to be there to comfort you.

Dr. Birkholz especially encourages dads to come along, as well as siblings of the new baby.

“I try to get the support group involved with the ultrasound,” he says. “This is a time for the family to bond and will give them something to reflect upon and talk about later. Our kids need dads, and this is a great time to start that bond as a family!”

You will not be exposed for others to see, to help you avoid feeling uncomfortable. All who come along will be able to see the baby on the ultrasound screen.

What Is My Doctor Looking For?

As fun as the ultrasound experience is, there are a few vital signs the doctor is looking for during this time.

During your ultrasound, your doctor will look for:

  • At the 12 Week Ultrasound when your baby is very small (less than 12 weeks), an ultrasound is often used to visualize and listen to the heart.  Unfortunately, this is a time when miscarriage can often be detected as well.
  • Near the 18th week of your pregnancy, you will have an ultrasound to evaluate the major organs in detail, the amniotic fluid and the placenta.  This is usually the best time to identify gender as well.

Although finding out the gender of your baby is truly exciting, it is not the purpose of the ultrasound. Your doctor will evaluate the placenta where the baby gets nutrients, the cervix or the entry into the womb, and even the structures outside of the uterus like the ovaries. The most valuable part of an ultrasound is being able to identify fetal growth and detailed fetal anatomy.

“I think it is a great time to share information with my patients and it also provides information that can help us treat certain conditions,” says Dr. Birkholz.

If you’d like more information about ultrasounds, pregnancy, or if you’ve had trouble getting pregnant, visit our Women’s Health Services for more information.

It’s also never too early to begin thinking about selecting a pediatrician. For a list of physicians close to you, visit McLane Children’s website.

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