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Ultrasound Advice

For me, the hardest part of my two pregnancies was the mystery. My babies were right there in front of me, and yet I knew so little about them. I wanted to see what they looked like, find out if they were healthy, even learn whether they were Stevens or Katies. Ultrasound -- the use of safe, high-frequency sound waves to create a two-dimensional image of the fetus -- gave me the answers I needed.

About 75 percent of expecting mothers have ultrasounds (also known as sonograms). Typically given at 16 to 20 weeks, this screening can help make sure that your baby is developing normally. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends ultrasounds only when there is a specific medical reason, and some insurance companies will pay for the test only if it's medically warranted. Still, many obstetricians offer them as a routine procedure. "Every patient should be entitled to at least one ultrasound," says Marcos J. Pupkin, M.D., chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Mercy Medical Center, in Baltimore.

Why Do an Ultrasound?

Here are the most common things doctors screen for.

  • Multiples. Your ob-gyn can tell you whether you're having twins (or more).
  • Due Date. The technician will estimate the age of the fetus and figure out your due date -- which is especially helpful for women who can't remember the date of their last period.
  • Growth Rate. Determining whether the fetus is growing at the right pace is particularly important for women who have hypertension (or some other relevant medical condition), since their babies sometimes grow too slowly.
  • Placenta Previa. If the placenta is blocking the cervix, the baby may have to be delivered via C-section. Ultrasounds can also help doctors figure out the source of unexplained bleeding.
  • Abnormalities. An ultrasound can reveal problems in the fetus, such as defects in the heart, limbs, face, neural tube, brain, kidneys, intestines, or spinal cord.
  • Gender. The technician should be able to tell the gender of your little one.

Copyright © 2003 Alice Lesch Kelly. Reprinted with permission from the May 2003 issue of Parents magazine.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.