Modern medicine is indeed a fantastic thing. Think about what pregnancy looked like one hundred years ago. There were no early detection kits, no ovulation predictors and no mainstream ways to assist a couple whose attempts at becoming parents fell short. Once pregnant, a woman had to wait out the nine, long months before meeting her little stranger. No samples got drawn, no pressures were monitored, and ultrasounds were not even a thing. When women decided to have a baby, they were going into the experience entirely blind.
Moms worldwide take their hats off to these parental pioneers. It is hard to imagine going through an entire gestation without the assistance of modern medicine and specific technologies. Sure, plenty of women approach pregnancy in a hands-off way (looking at the freebirthers, out there), but for the vast majority of moms, it is monthly check-ups and ultrasounds all the way! While the ultrasound can tell doctors and parents all sorts of exciting and helpful things about their growing baby, they aren't magical. There are still some things that they can not do. Here are 16 things doctors can see with an ultrasound exam and four that they can't detect.
20 Number Of Babies
The trusty ultrasound is often used by doctors to confirm the number of fetuses a woman is carrying. Decades ago, when a woman found herself toting around an extra large belly, one of two things was likely happening. She was either about to birth a giant human being, or she was carrying multiple fetuses. I found out that I was carrying twins when I was about eight weeks along.
That gave me a whole lot of time to prepare (and freak out) and it gave my doctors the information that they needed to make sure the babies and I stayed safe. Imagine those poor women years ago who popped out one baby to only discover that another one was still in there!
19 The Heartbeat
Ahhhh, the heartbeat. It is music to an expectant parents' ears for sure! Hearing your baby's sweet thumping via ultrasound is genuinely one of the most magical experiences that life has to offer. Doctors often perform an ultrasound early on in a woman's pregnancy to confirm that there is, in fact, a beating heart present.
The presence of a healthy heartbeat early on in pregnancy decreases a mother-to-be's risk of losing a pregnancy. Without hearing that strong heartbeat, it's hard to know what is going on inside a belly, especially very early on in pregnancy.
18 Exact Age Of Baby
If a woman is not actively trying to get pregnant, it might be difficult for her to know exactly when she became pregnant and how far along she is. Knowing when your baby is due is a pretty important detail, so doctors use fetal ultrasounds to determine the relative age of a fetus. Ultrasound images and measurements give doctors an estimate as to when a baby is due.
It can also help them know if the fetus is properly growing and thriving. If a woman is sure she is four months along, and the ultrasound shows a fetus to be about two months along, there could potentially be an issue.
17 Can't Determine: Infant's Eye Color
Have you spent the last nine months wondering if your little girl will inherit her father's dreamy green eyes or your dark brown peepers? Try as you might to get a glimpse of eye color during an ultrasound, you will have to wait until well past her birthday to determine that trait. Ultrasounds can detect some cool features, but eye color is not one of them.
All newborns are born with dark eyes if they are darker skinned and bluish grey is they are lighter skinned. The reason for this is because the pigmentation process of the iris is not yet complete until after birth.
16 Umbilical Cord Details
There are several kinds of ultrasounds that doctors can perform in a mother's pregnancy depending on the pregnancy's risks and the mother and baby's needs. The standard ultrasound is what most women receive around the 20-week mark. Some mommies-to-be also receive a 3-D ultrasound, which gives parents-to-be a peek at much more "human-like" features of a growing baby. A Doppler ultrasound is also sometimes performed. This particular ultrasound can show the flow and movement of fluids, through an infant's heart and umbilical cord.
15 Number Of Heart Chambers
Doctors use ultrasound to make sure a baby's ticker is properly pumping. They will count the chambers of the heart and verify if any defects look to be present. When it comes to the human heart, four is the magic number.
Aside from making sure all of the chambers are there and present, the sonographer will look for any anomalies or defects that might need to be addressed either during gestation or directly following a baby's birth. As with most conditions, knowing is half the battle. The earlier doctors can detect a problematic situation, the more they can explore moving forward.
14 Red Sack Placement
The mighty placenta makes the world go around for a little, growing fetus. This vital organ provides nutrients and fluid to your little ones while removing unwanted waste products. The sonographer performing your ultrasound will want to make sure that your placenta is in the right spot so to speak.
A placenta that lies too low refers to a condition called Placenta Previa. This condition can often cause complications. If your ultrasound shows a low lying placenta after the 20-week mark, you may have some restrictions placed on you as you continue to carry your baby.
13 Can't Determine: Infant's Hair Color
3-D ultrasounds can sometimes tell parents if their baby will have a head full of hair. Moms and dads often see lots of wisps waving around in the amniotic fluid when they have this intense ultrasound done. The hair color will be something that they will have to wait on though. Ultrasounds are done in black and white, so there is no telling pre-birth if a baby will be a fiery redhead or a blonde haired baby. With that said. You can probably look at mom, dad, and immediate family members hair for a solid educated guess as to hair color, but won't get a guarantee on the color of their locks from an ultrasound.
12 Kidney Function
During an ultrasound, doctors will look at several of the major developing organs to ensure that they are growing and working well. When practitioners are looking at the fetus's kidneys and bladder, they will be able to note if a baby's kidneys look enlarged. Several causes can be behind a baby's enlarged kidneys, most of which are quickly resolved post birth. Ultrasounds can also determine if the kidneys are not developing correctly. All of these assessments help doctors make a plan of action for your baby's health once they leave the womb and enter the world.
11 Where To Do Amniocentesis
An amniocentesis might be done to look for specific congenital disabilities in developing children. If a woman is at an elevated risk for specific chromosomal abnormalities or has given birth to a child with certain conditions such as Down Syndrome or Sickle Cell Anemia, then doctors might want to perform an amnio to get a better idea what is going on with a fetus's health. When doctors perform an amnio, an ultrasound is first done to locate where in the uterus the fetus is before the sampling needle gets inserted into the belly. No doctor wants to poke an unborn baby accidentally!
10 Whether There's Proper Growth
It's important to know if a fetus is properly growing inside the womb. Sometimes, infants cease to grow, and when this happens, doctors have to consider why this is happening and what the best plan of action for both mother and the baby is. When measuring a fetus, sonographers measure the infant's head and abdomen.
Those measurements can then be compared to growth charts. While doctors can measure a growing belly from the outside, ultrasound is the most accurate way to look at an unborn baby's growth.
9 Specific Issues
When looking at an unborn baby using ultrasound, professionals can see pretty certainly if there are any underlying issues with facial features or with the baby's spine. Urgent issues, like missing components of major organs, will also show up on an ultrasound. These images can help doctors better assist parents in making the best decisions for their babies and their families. If medical professionals know that an issue exists before a baby is born, then they can make a plan of action long before the baby leaves his mother's body, giving everyone the best possible chance at success on the outside.
8 Baby's Gender
One of the more exciting things that ultrasound can see is whether or not a bouncing baby boy is on his way or if a darling little lady will soon be joining the family. While new technologies allow for gender confirmation earlier than 20 weeks, 18 to 22 weeks is the standard range where doctors will remark on the pink or blue.
If you are going in for your ultrasound and do NOT want to know what you are having early on, make sure to tell your technician so that they can have you cover your eyes while they look at a fetus's more telling parts.
7 Can't Determine: Personality Traits
Wouldn't it be nice if an ultrasound told us if we were in for a laid back, chill kiddo or a high-strung, energetic little buddy? Sure, you get what you get when it comes to children, but it might be nice to know what we are in store for so that we can better prepare ourselves. There is no telling what your child's personality will be before they enter the world. Even then, babies are constantly changing during those first few years of life. Chill babies can end up being toddler handfuls, and testy infants might turn out to be dream toddlers. Only time will tell when it comes to a human being's personality.
Regular ultrasounds will measure the levels of amniotic fluid in a mother's uterus. During the portion of the ultrasound, the ultrasound technician will measure the pockets of fluid that they see surrounding the fetus. Appropriate levels of fluid are crucial to your baby's health and development.
If the levels are too low, then a baby could be growing more slowly than expected. It can also signify placental demise later on in a pregnancy. Either way, ultrasounds are an excellent way for your doctor to keep his eye on what is going on with the fluids.
6 Soft Markers For Chromosomal Issues
If a woman is of increased maternal age or has given birth to a child with chromosomal abnormalities, her doctor might suggest an ultrasound to see if the newest baby has possible chromosomal abnormalities. Down Syndrome is one of the possible irregularities that ultrasounds can look into. They will pick up on what is called "soft markers."
These "markers" basically say, "Hey! Here is something we should look at more closely," as opposed to indicating a particular abnormality. A certain level of fluid at the back of a fetus's neck might be considered to be a soft marker.
4 Breathing Pattern Practice
If you watch your baby on an ultrasound screen towards the end of your pregnancy, you might see him making some silly faces that look as if he is opening and closing his mouth continuously. He isn't trying to make you giggle consciously; he is practicing his breathing motions.
Of course, he is still swallowing amniotic fluids while in utero, but his little body is getting ready to breathe air on the outside, and if you look closely during a third-trimester ultrasound, you will be able to see his hard work.
3 Early Increased Risks
A fetal heartbeat can vary greatly. Some hearts beat faster while others stay in the lower range of normal. An exceptionally low heart rate around the 6-8 week mark in pregnancy can sometimes indicate a stronger chance of issues. It a fetal heart rate is below 70 beats per minute in that 6-8 timeframe, doctors can often predict that the pregnancy won't go to term.
A fetal heart rate below 90 beats per minutes in the 6-8 week range comes with an 86% loss rate, while a fetal heart rate below 120 beats per minute is sometimes associated with a 50% loss rate.
2 How Big The Baby Is
Parents are always curious as to how big (or small) their fetus is at any given point in the pregnancy. In certain pregnancies, knowing the rough size of a baby is important, not just fun. When carrying multiples, doctors will want to monitor the size of the babies via ultrasound to make sure all of them are growing at appropriate rates.
Other moms develop conditions such as gestational diabetes, which can lead to birthing bigger than expected infants. Doctors will closely watch the size of these babies as well and determine if a Cesarian section or early delivery is the safest option for an expectant mother.
1 Can't Determine: Predictors For Neuro Issues
Ultrasounds can tell doctors and parents if specific deficits and abnormalities are present. They will be able to see if markers are present for Down Syndrome, if a risk of spine issues exists and if the baby has a structural issues. What they can not foretell is if a specific neurological uniqueness will be present down the line.
Conditions like ADD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and behavioral disorders won't be present until later on in a child's life. As a child grows, it's important to be discussing any possible concerns with your child's doctor.
Sources: babymed.com, hopkinsmedicine.org., livestrong.com