How To Say Informed At Each Ultrasound Visit

One of the most exciting parts of any pregnancy is the ultrasounds. It's usually the first time you "see" your little, and can make a pregnancy, for some people, finally feel real. I can still, oh-so-clearly, remember the first ultrasound I had when I was pregnant with my son. Those visits are emotional, too, so if you're getting ready for your own ultrasound it's worth writing down a few of the key questions you should bring to your ultrasound visit so you can remember to do what's necessary in order to stay and remain informed.

Personally, I didn’t ask a significant amount of questions during my visits, mostly because I was my pregnancy was considered high-risk. With that diagnoses came weekly ultrasound appointments, so the "excitement" of those initial visits faded rather quickly. My doctors were checking for all kinds of things at each appointment, so there wasn’t as much of a risk that something would be overlooked and, after a while, an ultrasound became something of a routine.

I know most pregnant people won't experience the same weekly ultrasound situation, though. So, while exciting, it's important to ask at least a few questions so you know, for certain, that your little one-to-be is growing as planned. While everyone is always dying to ask about what the “sex” is (which, really, is just a fetus' genitalia), we seem to forget some of the more important aspects of their growth. So, with that in mind, here’s a few questions to get you started:

What Are My Baby's Measurements & Are They At The Correct Gestational Stage?

First off, you want to know if your baby is growing appropriately. Your ultrasound tech should be measuring your baby’s entire body (head circumference, limbs, etc.) to rule out intrauterine growth restriction, which means the baby is smaller than it should be.

If this is the case, your doctor will want to check for conditions like preeclampsia, placental abruption, infections, malnutrition, and more.

Are All Of My Baby’s Limbs Present & Forming Properly?

Obviously this won’t happen at the first ultrasound (because the fetus is more of a bean than, you know, a fetus). At your 20-week (or so) appointment, however, the ultrasound technician will check for both arms and legs, as well as try to count all the fingers and toes.

As you might imagine, if they can’t count them all there might be a birth defect. Then again, the baby could just be in a weird or awkward position that makes it damn near impossible to read the ultrasound sufficiently. I mean, have you ever looked at those things? So there's no need to stress: if a technician can't see something right away, they'll wait until the baby moves or ask for a repeat ultrasound to count again and confirm.

Are All Of My Baby’s Internal Organs Present & Forming Properly?

Stomach, lungs, heart, brain: your ultrasound should be able to detect all of the necessary, vital organs. The technician, your doctor, and, you know, you, will want to make sure your baby-to-be is growing appropriately and that they appear to be functioning correctly. You’ll also want to ask if they are all forming in their proper place, as organs can end up growing in the incorrect place, such as in cases of situs inversus.

Can We Take A Closer Look At The Kidneys?

There are a number of things that can go on with a baby’s kidneys, and they're usually easily detectable via an ultrasound. One such issue is called an ectopic kidney, which means the kidney grew in an abnormal position (closer to the front of the body than the back). While it doesn't cause extreme complications, it can create urinary problems like urinary blockages, stones, and infections. You’ll also want to check for horseshoe kidney (when you grow one horseshoe-shaped kidney rather than two), and for fluid in the kidneys, which can be common in boys but usually resolves on its own after birth.

For the record, the ultrasound technician will check all of this routinely and on their own. Most technicians (especially the good ones) will actually walk you through what they're looking at, when, and why. So really, you can sit back and relax through the process. If you don't hear about anything, of course, and you're curious, it doesn't hurt to ask.

How Is My Baby's Brain?

An ultrasound can tell you a lot about how your baby’s brain is developing, which is great and, well, potentially terrifying. Remember, chances are your baby is absolutely fine. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CD), only 3 percent of babies are born with birth defects in the United States. So, really, while it's great to stay informed and ask for as much knowledge as possible, know that the odds are ever in your favor.

So, having said that, it's true that calcifications in the brain can occur when a mother has been exposed to Zika, and those calcifications can lead to microcephaly. A cyst in the brain could mean your baby has a chromosome disorder called trisomy 18, which often ends in stillbirth. Of course, there are plenty of other conditions that can be detected as well. Make sure to ask if they see anything even remotely alarming in the brain but, again, chances are you baby's brain is forming perfectly.

How Is My Baby's Heart?

Clearly the other main vital organ in the body is the heart, and you’ll want to ask as many questions about it as possible. Boston Children’s Hospital suggests asking your doctor and/or tech if they see all four chambers of the fetus’ heart, as well as whether there are “two valves controlling flow from the upper chambers into the lower chambers,” and if there are “two valves connecting to blood vessels that exit in the heart in a crossing fashion.”

You want to rule out any heart defects early, as there are always things that could be done if this is there is cause for alarm.

Does The Spine Appear To Be Forming Properly?

Your doctor and/or ultrasound technician should be able to detect any issues with your baby’s spine during your ultrasound. If they see any potential defects, this could mean they have a form of spina bifida, though some forms are generally not problematic.

Does Everything Seem OK With My Placenta?

Once the technician has checked everything they can when it comes to your baby-to-be's anatomy, they'll likely check you out, too.

Mainly, they’ll be checking the placenta. If your placenta is covering some or all of your cervix, you have a condition known as placenta previa, and you might be placed on pelvic rest.

Again, and because there's no reason to panic, placenta previa only happens in about 1 out of every 200 pregnancies, according to the March of Dimes, so chance are you and your placenta will be just fine. If you are worried, it doesn't hurt to ask, but there's no reason to stress.

How Is My Cervix Measuring?

Finally, you’ll want to ask how your cervix is doing. While some shortening is to be expected over time, and especially as you inch closer and closer to your due date, it should always stay above a certain number of centimeters depending on specific gestational ages.

In the end, there really is no reason to panic. Chances are your ultrasounds will be amazing, wonderful, exciting experience where you'll get to see your baby-to-be move around, all cute like. Still, and always, it doesn't hurt to be informed. Asking questions never hurts, especially when it comes to your health and the health of your pregnancy.