Fetal ultrasound is a test used during pregnancy. It creates an image of the baby in the mother's womb (uterus). It’s a safe way to check the health of an unborn baby. During a fetal ultrasound, the baby’s heart, head, and spine are evaluated, along with other parts of the baby. The test may be done either on the mother’s abdomen (transabdominal) or in the vagina (transvaginal).
There are several types of fetal ultrasound:
Ultrasound uses an electronic wand called a transducer to send and receive sound waves. No radiation is used during the procedure. The transducer is moved over the abdomen, and sound waves move through the skin, muscle, bone, and fluids at different speeds. The sound waves bounce off the baby like an echo and return to the transducer. The transducer converts the sound waves into an electronic image on a computer screen.
Fetal ultrasound is a routine part of prenatal care in the U.S. This is because it’s a low risk procedure that gives important information. A routine prenatal ultrasound can check for defects or other problems in the fetus. The following can be examined:
A fetal ultrasound can also show:
Your healthcare provider may have other reasons to request a fetal ultrasound.
All procedures have some risks. The risks of this procedure include:
In some cases, an ultrasound may appear to show a problem that is not there called false-positive. The test can also miss a problem that is there called false-negative. In some cases, additional testing may be needed after a fetal ultrasound.
Fetal ultrasound is sometimes offered in nonmedical settings. This is done as a way to give keepsake images or videos for parents. In these cases, it’s possible for untrained staff to misread the images and give parents incorrect information. Make sure to have fetal ultrasound done by trained medical staff. Talk with your healthcare provider if you have questions.
Your risks may vary depending on your general health and other factors. Ask your healthcare provider which risks apply most to you. Discuss any concerns you may have.
Your healthcare provider will explain the procedure to you. Ask any questions you may have. You may be asked to sign a consent form that gives permission to do the procedure. Read the form carefully. Ask questions if anything is not clear.
Tell your healthcare provider if you:
You may be asked to drink several glasses of water before the procedure. This can help give clearer images.
You may have your procedure as an outpatient. This means you can go home the same day. Or it may be done as part of a longer stay in the hospital. The way the procedure is done may vary. It depends on your condition and your healthcare provider’s methods. In most cases, the procedure will follow this process:
You will be given tissue to wipe off excess gel. You can go home shortly after the test. Your healthcare provider will talk with you about the results. You may get other instructions after the procedure.
Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:
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