What is ultrasound for in pregnancy

The ultrasound; for Doctors it means vital medical feedback; for a mum to be like Alison it meant, "Wonder and excitement, little faces and little fingers, it was magic".

Believe it or not ultrasound was first used for clinical purposes in Glasgow in 1956. Obstetrician Ian Donald and engineer Tom Brown developed the first prototype systems based on an instrument used to detect industrial flaws in ships.

Since then it has been honed as a technique to give Doctors and their patients, invaluable information and reassurance. As little as a couple of decades ago women had a few main ultrasounds during their pregnancies. Now, many walk out of their Obstetricians office with a cute image of their bub in utero; the first photo for the baby album.

So what does this technology offer Doctors and the expecting parents they are looking after?

During the first trimester it has several applications. It denotes a true intrauterine pregnancy, identifying gestation sac, yolk sac and fetal pole – in plain English that's the makings of a growing bub and their temporary home in mum's tummy.

During these early weeks ultrasound also shows the presence of fetal heart motion. That is the wonderful sound of a heartbeat, a special moment for any parents, and a particularly reassuring noise for those who experience PV bleeding in early pregnancy. As mum Belinda says, "It gave me peace of mind after I suffered terrible abdominal pain in the middle of the night".

First trimester ultrasound is also the time that Doctors date a pregnancy. Yep, mums to be often know 'when' it happened just as accurately as 'how' it happened, but the ultrasound is the forum for the medical dating of early gestation.

During the second and third trimesters, as well as labour, ultrasound is used to track the baby's position; is it head down, breach or transverse, facing forwards or backwards, or doing somersaults – as can be the case before it runs out of the room needed to perform circus moves.

These later ultrasounds also look at the position of the placenta. This is valuable information, especially in terms of a low lying placenta. Placenta position can determine the type of birth a mum will have, depending on how near to the opening of the cervix the placenta is, and whether it moves up as the uterus stretches.

Whilst nothing can beat the first time parents hear their baby's heartbeat, this is a treat to look forward to at each ultrasound: A true connection between bub and the outside world that reassures parents and enables doctors to take the very best care of their patients.

Of course it also allows husbands and partners to connect with the bub growing inside their loved one. As mum Sally says, "The 4D ultrasound was a great bonding moment. It was so exciting to get a close up of your baby's face and discuss for hours whose features he/she had inherited!"


Table of Common Applications of Ultrasound in Pregnancy The Medical Republic Issue 5 21 October 2015

Thanks to mums Alison, Belinda and Sally for sharing their memories of ultrasound



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Tuesday, 07 December 2021