What to Expect at an Ultrasound


Your first ultrasound is sure to be a momentous occasion during your pregnancy. For me, it was a bit nerve-wracking due to the circumstances… but for most women, it’s one of the greatest experiences you’ll have during that nine (okay, ten!) months, since you FINALLY get to see a sneak peek of your little peanut!

I’m sure you’ve seen it before in the movies: the woman is lying on a table while the doctor uses a handheld device to scan her belly looking for something that resembles a baby. Not too long after, you hear or see a heartbeat and something vaguely baby-shaped, and the doctor points to the screen and says something along the lines of, “There’s your baby!” And to some degree, this may actually be fairly similar to your experience.

But what I didn’t know before my first ultrasound (and of course, they don’t EVER show this in the movies) is that there are actually two ways to conduct an ultrasound, and the method that is used depends on how far along you are in your pregnancy. So let’s talk about what you can expect at each one.

If you are still in your first trimester when you go in for an ultrasound, the doctor or technician will need to perform something called a transvaginal ultrasound… NOT an abdominal one. Yes, you read that right – through the vagina. This is because the baby is still very tiny, and the internal use of the wand enables them to get a much closer look. To perform this type of ultrasound, you will be laying on the table with your feet in stirrups, naked from the waist down, just like you would for a pelvic exam. The doctor will put a condom onto a large plastic wand, cover it in lubricant (which is usually cold, unfortunately), and then insert it all the way into your vagina. It doesn’t hurt… it’s just not very comfortable. The least fun part is when they need to move the wand one way or another to get a better angle to see, which may make you cringe a little (because again, it’s just not a very comfortable sensation). The good news? This type of ultrasound typically doesn’t last very long, usually only a couple of minutes at most.

If this sounds scary, try not to worry too much. I can promise you that once you hear and see your little bean’s heartbeat flickering on the screen, or if it’s the first time you’re seeing him/her wiggle around, you will completely forget that there’s a giant plastic wand up your hoo-ha. I actually cried during my first ultrasound because I was so overwhelmed with happiness, so I definitely wasn’t thinking about the wand!

If you are in your second trimester of pregnancy, you’re likely going in for something called the “anatomy scan” or “anatomy ultrasound”. This usually happens around 20 weeks or so. This type of ultrasound will be performed abdominally, so it is much more likely to mirror what you’ve seen on TV and in movies. But there are some other specifics to know that you don’t see in movies.

First, you will be asked to drink a ridiculous amount of water right before your visit… and then you’re instructed to HOLD IT during the ultrasound. (It’s a pretty brutal task for a pregnant woman with a baby dancing on her bladder, but it helps them get a better look at your baby, so you just have to suck it up and deal with it). You will then lay on the table, pull up your shirt (and your pants down a bit lower) as they squirt some gel onto your belly. Doc will scan around on your baby bump with a handheld device, looking for your baby on the screen. They typically press much harder than you’d imagine, too, which can be a nightmare for your already-full bladder! However, it’s all worth it… because once they find baby on the screen, that’s when the fun begins! Not only will you get to see baby in action, but the doctor will also usually point out specific body parts, like hands, toes, legs, butt, spine, the face… and if your baby is in a good position and you want to know the gender, they can zoom in on your baby’s genital area to show you what you’re having! Most of the time, they’ll print out a few photos of the highlights for you to take home.

The anatomy scan takes about a half hour or so, because they spend a lot of time measuring and taking still-frame shots of different parts of your baby’s body to send back for analysis. This is all to make sure he/she is developing properly, so just lay back and enjoy the time while you can. If you’re feeling baby’s kicks by this point in your pregnancy, it’s also fun to be able to see your baby’s jerky movements on the screen and feel them happening at the same time!

It is also possible that you’ll have another ultrasound some time in your late third trimester, as some doctors might want or need to check the level of amniotic fluid surrounding your baby. They also like to see whether or not the baby has rotated into the proper head-down position for birthing.

How many ultrasounds you will have throughout your pregnancy is entirely variable based on your medical history and the circumstances of your current pregnancy in particular. Some women with a low-risk pregnancy only get to have one or two, while other women will have them much more routinely if there are potential complications that require check-ins to ensure their pregnancy is progressing normally.

What was your first ultrasound like? Share your experience in the comments below!


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