It may seem that all expectant mothers have been undergoing ultrasound examination for several decades. However, this medical procedure has given birth to so many misconceptions. This is even more surprising if we think that ultrasound is an absolutely harmless and very important test.
As you know, expectant mothers are contraindicated a lot of medical procedures: X-ray, MRI, CT scan, so ultrasound is practically the only way to learn how the future baby develops and if everything is in order with the mother’s health. Ultrasound can help detect abnormalities of the internal organs of the future baby, explore the amniotic fluid and determine its amount, and follow the height and weight of the fetus. It is also important that this method has already become widely used in medicine, and there are a lot of doctors who can decipher the results correctly.
The principle of ultrasound machines is simple: a sensor (a transducer, or a device that is moved over the place that one wants to examine) creates sound waves of very high frequency, i.e. ultrasonic waves. When ultrasound penetrates deep into the body, it reaches the internal organs on its way and is reflected from them. Since each body organ has a different structure and, accordingly, a different density, ultrasound is reflected from them at different speed. From the outside, it looks like a ball game, which is different on the asphalt and on grass. The sound waves are returned to the transmitter, which converts them to a video by means of a special apparatus, and it is this video that the doctor sees on the monitor.
Why do you need a three-dimensional ultrasound?
Planar ultrasound that is familiar to all of us provides a black-and-white image in two dimensions – reflecting the length and the height. Three-dimensional or 3D-ultrasound images add one more parameter – the volume. For expectant mothers, this option is particularly interesting as it gives a good opportunity to see the baby – not as an accumulation of obscure black and white spots, but with an almost photographic precision (the image, however, will come in different shades of brown).
4D, or four-dimensional ultrasound, is a more modern version of the study. Apart from the three dimensions, it has the fourth one – time. It helps an expectant mother not just see a “picture” of the future baby, but watch a real movie about its life before birth. For example, one could observe how the fetus is yawning or sucking its finger.
Future moms should be warned that, if they want to get a disc with 3D- and 4D-images of the future baby, it is necessary to wait until the baby turns to provide a good angle for taking a picture. However, according to doctors, one should not be exposed to the ultrasound longer than it is recommended by the standards.
Visibility of 3D- and 4D-ultrasound version is really far higher if compared with the usual two-dimensional US. But for the doctors, this version does not have a lot of advantages over the “classical” method: everything the doctor sees in three dimensions will be seen in the two-dimensional image as well. 3D only allows you to have a closer look at the detected malformation of the fetus (and demonstrate it to the future parents). But in general, these types of studies are no substitute for the usual two-dimensional ultrasound.
Can ultrasound affect the baby’s health?
No harmful effects of ultrasound on the body of a pregnant woman and her fetus have been found yet. Working with older machines did not bring any harm, so using modern ones is expected to be safe, too. However, it is not so easy to detect them because ultrasound is now offered everywhere (and expectant mothers are all required to undergo it), so there is no control group of people who have never attended this study. Hence, there can be no purity of experiment.
Doctors often have to deal with the most bizarre myths about the ultrasound procedure. For example, some women confuse ultrasound and X-rays, believing that ultrasound can also be radiated. This is absolute nonsense because these two ways of study have nothing in common. There are mothers who believe ultrasound is required just because doctors need reporting. This opinion has arisen due to prevalence of the screening method, which is necessary for the detection of congenital abnormalities of the fetus at an early stage. But any screening is voluntary, and the patient has the right to refuse.
However, despite the widely recognized safety, doctors agree that ultrasound should not be undergone without a prescription, and pregnant women need to strictly abide by the schedule of studies. Expectant mothers usually have ultrasound screening three times during the 9-month period – one for each trimester. These three surveys can include one more, conducted at an early stage of pregnancy, when being in a family way still has to be diagnosed.
Does the baby find an ultrasound procedure unpleasant?
Many mothers think that when the sensor pressure is applied on the abdomen during the ultrasound procedure their future baby begins to actively move, as if it were hurt or felt unpleasant. In fact, this is spontaneous contraction of the fetus’ muscles, which women simply do not pay attention to in a different situation (when lying on the doctor’s couch, they are too keenly concentrated on the signals from their stomach). The “white coat syndrome” should not be discarded either: pregnant women react to the study itself very emotionally and are worried if the baby feels all right. The mother’s excitement can be transmitted to the baby.
Whatever some mothers may think about ultrasound, one thing is certain – it can be used to learn some facts about the expected baby that cannot be discovered in any other known way. This means that the health of millions of children, whose perspectives used to be vague or even deplorable in the pre-ultrasound era, can now be saved by doctors.