Pregnancy can be a nerve-wracking time for parents as they try to figure out which of mom's symptoms are normal and which aren't. Frequent visits to the doctor are the norm, and many pregnant women also get at least one ultrasound. Most of the time, the ultrasound and the doctors’ visits are reassuring, but sometimes a sign or a symptom can be misread by a doctor or technician with potential consequences. There are a number of things that doctors will often predict for the pregnant mother that she takes as fact, only to be surprised when the baby actually arrives.
The truth is that no one can really know exactly what's going on inside the womb, and there will always be an element of uncertainty. While most pregnancies are healthy, there are many problems, issues and changes that can take moms and doctors by surprise when baby finally makes her appearance. Sometimes the mom even has a hunch about something that doesn't agree with what the doctor said. As Robert Burns once wrote, “the best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley,” per Dictionary. Perhaps in this circumstance, we should paraphrase it to say, the best-laid plans of doctors and moms often go awry. Here Are 20 Things The Doctor Can Be Wrong About Regarding The Future Baby.
20 The Gender Reversal
While some parents couldn't care less, many are looking forward to the day when the technician can tell them whether they're having a boy or a girl. There are several types of ultrasounds that can be performed to make the determination, but the accuracy depends on a number of factors, according to The Bump. Things that can muddy the waters are the way the umbilical cord is positioned, confusing the tailbone or the bum with the right parts or the inexperience of the technician. Ultrasounds done at or after 20 weeks are said to be 95% accurate. That means at least five percent of the time, it's a surprise party.
19 There Is... Another
Early ultrasounds before 20 weeks are much more unreliable in determining important things like the gender of the baby, but they also often miss other embryos. Many women make it well into their second or third trimester before discovering that they are carrying twins, as per Verywell Family. Twins or triplets in the past were often a surprise, but with the advanced imaging available in the US, multiples are usually found before birth. Rarely, the doctor will still get a shock at birth when a second baby follows the first. Mom may not have had a scan, or scans could have been misinterpreted or misread.
18 Not As Big As We Thought
When a baby measures larger than average, doctors are often concerned about mom's ability to give birth the old-fashioned way without any issues. Of particular concern is shoulder dystocia in the newborn, which can result in permanent damage. Doctors and moms also worry about the pain and difficulty of birthing a larger baby, but studies are showing that the doctors are often wrong about the baby's actual size and many moms are undergoing totally unnecessary medical interventions, according to the New York Times. Babies over 11 pounds are very rare, but many moms report feeling pressure to undergo a C-section anyway.
17 Discovering Syndromes
Many people are shocked to find out that many babies with Down Syndrome aren't diagnosed until birth or even well after birth, according to Pittsburgh Moms Blog. Even women who are considered at the lowest risk and are under the age of 35 can and do give birth to babies with Down Syndrome in spite of multiple scans. Most low-risk moms never undergo testing specifically for Down Syndrome. Even at-risk mothers may not find out until birth; false-positive and false-negative results are relatively common, and the uncertainty can lead to difficult decisions for the parents. While older moms are more at risk, most Down Syndrome babies are born to moms under 35.
16 Due Date Deviance
Perhaps moms should start looking at the due date as a rough guideline—or maybe the problem is in the term itself, which implies far more certainty than is actually known. The likelihood that a baby will arrive in the same week as their due date is only 35%, as per Bloom Life. Doctors often calculate the due date from the mom's last menstrual cycle, but there are too many factors in play to make it a sure a thing. Even things like the height of the mom or how quickly the fertilized egg attaches to the uterine wall can affect how long the baby bakes in the oven.
15 Out On A Limb
Many doctors and insurance companies are still being guided by old and outdated studies and so don't offer comprehensive scans of babies. Moms determined to be high-risk may receive additional testing and scans, but even these are subject to accurate interpretation by a skilled doctor or technician, according to Slate. The result is that many birth defects—including missing or malformed limbs—are not detected until birth. There are sometimes other cases where moms are told that baby's limbs are missing or not growing properly even with multiple scans, only for the baby to be born with no visible limb issues at all, as related in USA Today.
14 No Unusual looks After All
Sometimes in a routine scan, the doctor can see signs that things aren't right. Receiving a serious or terminal diagnosis for a baby before she's even been born is an agonizing and painful thing, and many parents are then left to ponder whether they can—or even should—carry the baby to term. Many moms decide to continue the pregnancy and plan for the serious complications they believe they'll encounter, only to discover at birth that the doctor was wrong, and the baby is born with no health issues at all, as per Live Action. Ultrasounds can be difficult to interpret based on the baby's position, even for seasoned doctors.
13 Have Heart Trouble
Tests, scans and screenings are more advanced than ever before, so babies are more likely to get an accurate diagnosis of a heart defect as early as four months along in utero, according to Parents. No test is fail-safe. However, many heart defects aren't actually detected until birth or even long after. Because many of the tests and scans require a final interpretation from a doctor, the element of human error means that a fraction of heart defect diagnoses will be incorrect. Parents are sometimes the ones who notice symptoms that can reveal a hidden heart defect and can prompt testing by discussing these symptoms with a doctor.
12 Organ Issues
Many moms-to-be undergo an anatomy scan for their growing baby around the 20-week mark. This scan often checks important body parts and organs like the brain, heart, stomach and kidneys, as per Healthline. In rare cases, a baby might be missing an organ, or the doctor may find the organ growing on the wrong side or even outside the baby's body. When one of these rare but serious defects are uncovered, moms are often faced with the decision of whether to continue the pregnancy. Further complicating this issue is that up to 8.8% of tests may result in a false positive, and over 9% of results might be a misclassification, according to BMC.
11 Too Many Fingers In The Pie
Polydactyly is when a baby has more than five fingers that form on a hand. There are a lot of variations of polydactyly, including the number of fingers formed and whether they contain bone or are working fingers. Polydactyly and syndactyly—when fingers are fused or webbed—can sometimes be detected by ultrasound, as per Encyclopedia Of Children's Health. The problem is that it's easy to misinterpret the appearance of those tiny fingers and toes in the ultrasound image, so doctors are often surprised when babies are born. Doctors do try to count those fingers and toes in the scan, but a moving baby or indistinct scan could lead to a misdiagnosis.
10 The other part of gender reveal
The doctor often looks for specific, tell-tale signs, and most of the time they are able to correctly assess the gender of the baby. Sometimes a mom will undergo the FISH test, commonly used to check for common problems and also used to genetically determine gender, as per The Daily Beast. One mother sued medical professionals after it was discovered that the initial diagnosis that her baby was "ambiguous" turned out to be a clerical error. Other parents are told their newborn has ambiguous or mixed and that the baby needs corrective surgery immediately—despite studies that this may be more opinion- than fact-based, according to Today's Parent.
9 Thinking the baby isn't going to make it
It's rare, but it happens—the doctor can't find the heartbeat during the ultrasound and thinks there are signs that the pregnancy isn't viable. Then, the mom is scheduled for a procedure to remove the pregnancy contents or opts to wait for the loss to happen naturally (the safest course of action in most cases), only to find out that the pregnancy was viable after all, as per Babble. Sometimes moms wait and are delighted during follow-up visits to find that their baby is there and growing normally and are then furious they spent all that time in between worrying and grieving. Moms can ask for a second opinion or a follow-up ultrasound before going ahead with any procedures.
8 It's Just Braxton Hicks
Not every mom-to-be labors for days. The labor experience is vastly different from mom to mom and even from baby to baby. A surprising number of moms head to the hospital and are sent back home after doctors and midwives are determining that they're either not in labor or are experiencing false labor—Braxton Hicks contractions, according to The Guardian. Many women think their experiences of being turned away from the hospital are a result of medical professionals not listening to them. Some women who go into the hospital concerned about pre-term labor sit for hours waiting to be seen or are never seen at all—until it's too late.
7 A Brain Development
One family who was warned that their baby's brain wasn't developing got the shock of their lives when the baby was actually born with a fully developed brain that had been obscured by hydrocephalus, according to Fox News. Displeased with the potential inaccuracies of an ultrasound—brain development assessments may only be 70% accurate—some researchers are advocating for a follow-up MRI to establish up to 29% better accuracy, as per Tech Times. Several studies indicate that whether a mom chooses to terminate a pregnancy is directly related to whether the ultrasound indicates a major issue, but researchers urge that additional studies be done to control for bias and a wider demographic.
6 C-Section Potential
Many pregnant women assume when their doctor advises that they have a C-section that it is medically necessary and the benefits outweigh the risks. However, doctors aren't always correct that a C-section is needed, and many moms-to-be undergo traumatic and painful C-sections even when there was no real urgency, as per Consumer Reports. The likelihood that a woman will have a C-section isn't based on the medical needs of her and the baby as much as it is based on the hospital's history. Most women believe their C-section is necessary based on what the doctor tells them, but over half of C-sections aren't needed.
5 Premature Potential
The length of a woman's pregnancy can vary by as much as five weeks, according to the BBC. If that's the case, then measuring prematurity by the number of weeks alone might be an inaccurate assessment of fetal maturity. Studies have confirmed that very few women actually give birth on their due date. A baby is considered premature if he's born before 37 weeks. Doctors don't always know why, but there are some risk factors, including problems with the uterus and cervix, as per March Of Dimes. Going into pre-term labor and not getting care as soon as possible can cause the baby to be born prematurely.
4 IUGR Or Isn't She?
Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) is the term for when a baby is growing more slowly than normal, resulting in a lower birth weight, according to WebMD. A doctor may make a diagnosis of IUGR based on the measurements made during the anatomy ultrasound or even during subsequent ultrasounds, but often these babies are born at term at a normal birth weight—they didn't have IUGR after all. An incorrect diagnosis can have serious effects on both mom and baby, according to RF Mendes et al., as per the National Center For Biotechnology Information. Babies said to have IUGR are more likely to experience unnecessary medical intervention.
Even the most advanced scans can sometimes prove to be incorrect. Mothers assume that their doctor is an expert in interpreting the images they see in ultrasounds. While it's rare, occasionally a mom-to-be will hear the diagnosis of skeletal dysplasia or dwarfism. Once a doctor has made the diagnosis, pregnant women are far more likely to experience early medical intervention, including induction, which can create more complications than it relieves, as per AAP. Often situations regarding dysplasia and osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) are more illuminated in hindsight. Doctors might prefer to intervene early out of an abundance of caution but could be doing more harm than good.
2 Mom's Unerring Instincts
Both women and doctors don't give the woman enough credit when her instincts are telling her something. Doctors will even roll their eyes or actively seek to discredit women who insist that something isn't right or that they've researched symptoms on the Internet, but moms-to-be shouldn't just ignore that gut instinct—oftentimes, they're catching something the doctor is too ready to dismiss, as per Good Housekeeping. Doctors are in a precarious position sometimes—if they disregard something seemingly minor, they could miss something big—but if they test for everything, they may be over-medicalizing something trivial or nonexistent. Finding a middle ground and listening to the patient is key.
1 Breech, Breech Baby
Babies usually turn and orient themselves into the birthing position before labor begins, but some babies are stubborn and remain in the breech position up until the very end or even once labor has progressed. Doctors usually tell mothers that if the baby has not moved out of breech position within a week of her due date that they'll need to schedule a C-section. The truth is that a baby may not move until the last second, explains Mama Natural. Even if the baby remains in breech, there are many situations where a vaginal birth is still possible without a greatly increased risk or a C-section.
References: Dictionary, TheBump, Verywell Family, New York Times, Pittsburgh Moms Blog, Bloom Life, Slate, USA Today, Live Action, Parents, Healthline, BMC, Encyclopedia Of Children's Health, The Daily Beast, Today's Parent, Babble, The Guardian, Fox News, Tech Times, Consumer Reports, BBC, March Of Dimes, WebMD, National Center For Biotechnology Information, AAP, Good Housekeeping, Mama Natural