Obstetric Ultrasound: What Is My Healthcare Provider Looking For?

Jun 11, 2014 1:18:00 PM Posted by Iowa Radiology


Iowa Radiology Obstetric Ultrasound

The obstetric ultrasound has become nearly ubiquitous in modern prenatal care. Many parents look forward to this event because it gives them a first glimpse at their unborn child and perhaps learn their baby’s gender.  The images generated by a prenatal ultrasound also provide valuable information about fetal development and the progress of a pregnancy.

A complete obstetric ultrasound, which provides a comprehensive look at your baby’s organs and skeletal structure, is commonly ordered around mid-pregnancy (18-22 weeks). Ultrasound imaging may be recommended at any time during pregnancy, however, depending upon the information your health care provider seeks. 

Findings from an Obstetric Ultrasound 

Confirmation of pregnancy and fetal heartbeat

This is can be done as early as 7-8 weeks into the pregnancy


Estimate of gestational age

During the early weeks of pregnancy, all fetuses are around the same size.  As a result, measurement around 7-13 into pregnancy can help determine gestational age within a week during the first trimester..


Number of fetuses

Most women who are pregnant with multiples measure large in their first trimester.  An ultrasound may be ordered to confirm a suspicion of multiple gestation.


Location of the fetus and placenta

Locating the fetus may be advised early in pregnancy for diagnosing ectopic (sometimes called “tubal”) pregnancies, in which the fertilized egg attaches somewhere other than the uterus, such as in a fallopian tube, in an ovary, or on the cervix.

Later in pregnancy, ultrasound can show if the baby is in a breech position or whether the placenta is covering the cervix (a condition called “placenta previa”).  


Cause of symptoms such as vaginal bleeding or cramping

An ultrasound is often used to assess fetal heartbeat in case of threatened miscarriage and to look for other potential causes of bleeding during pregnancy.


Level of amniotic fluid

If there is too much or too little amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus, further ultrasounds may be ordered throughout the third trimester to monitor the pregnancy.


Length and condition of the cervix

If you have experienced miscarriage in the past, or if you are pregnant with multiples, your health care provider may want to check the condition of your cervix to see if it is remaining closed to protect the pregnancy. 


Insight into fetal growth and well being

Ultrasound allows observations of the baby’s growth, movement, heart rate, and breathing.


Identification of possible congenital abnormalities

The practitioner will determine whether basic anatomy is developing properly.  Screening can be done for conditions such as spina bifida, heart defects, Down syndrome, and other chromosomal abnormalities.


Sex of the baby

Many parents are excited to learn this piece of information.  The ultrasound image usually, but not always, reveals the baby’s sex. This is not something practitioners generally need to know, but in some cases, the information may be medically valuable.  If you do not wish to know the sex of your baby before birth, you should let the technologist know before the procedure.


At Iowa Radiology, we understand that having a baby is an exciting time in a patient's life.  We are proud to help make this even more special and document the event by printing your ultrasound pictures and providing a frame as a keepsake.  Each exam room is equipped with a flat screen TV for easy viewing of your baby once the ultrasound exam is complete.

We want you to fully understand any procedure you undergo. If you have questions or concerns about your obstetric ultrasound, please call us at 515-226-9810 and ask for a tech or email us at schedule@iowaradiology.com. We are here to help.


The health-related information on the Iowa Radiology website is meant for basic informational purposes only. It is not intended to serve as medical advice or to be used for diagnosing or treating a disease. Users of this website are advised to consult with their health care providers before making any decisions concerning their health.


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