What to Expect at Your First Pregnancy Ultrasound

Early ultrasounds can be helpful but are not always necessary. In fact, many individuals birthing out of the hospital only get one ultrasound during their entire pregnancy, which is the 20-week anatomy scan. There are some excellent reasons to consider getting a first-trimester ultrasound. It is a good idea to weigh whether these things are important or applicable to you and your pregnancy.

Reasons to Get An Early Ultrasound

Determine Your Due Date

The first reason that many individuals want to get first-trimester ultrasounds is if they are unsure of their conception date or the date of their last period. If you are unsure of these two things, it is difficult to know when your due date might be. Many providers will encourage a first-trimester ultrasound if the due date is questionable or unknown. Did you know that an ultrasound done before week 13 weeks’ gestation is more accurate in dating than any other ultrasound done later in pregnancy? Because of this, getting an early ultrasound might be a good option for you and your pregnancy.

Gain Reassurance

Another reason that some individuals desire early ultrasounds is because they have experienced infant loss previous to this pregnancy. Losing a baby at any gestational age is incredibly heart-wrenching and challenging for most individuals. At the very least, it can cause a lot of anxiety, especially going into subsequent pregnancies. This is entirely understandable, and wanting some reassurance by getting an early ultrasound is a valid thing to need. 

In many instances, doppler devices cannot hear a baby’s heartbeat before 10-13 weeks, and babies are not kicking, so it is difficult to know whether or not they are doing alright. This is one of those times that an early ultrasound can be highly beneficial.

Get Excited

Finally, many want to get early ultrasounds because they want to, and that is it. There does not have to be a reason. Whether you are excited that this is your first, are going along with what your doctor suggests, or simply want to see your little jellybean bouncing around there, getting an ultrasound is an excellent option. 

If you choose to get an ultrasound, let’s talk about what to expect because it may differ from what you would think.

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Expect a Transpelvic Ultrasound

The first thing to note is that early ultrasounds must be done transpelvically many times. This is done by inserting an ultrasound wand vaginally and viewing your baby from the inside. 

For many individuals, this idea is uncomfortable, which is why I bring it up. When I went in for my early ultrasound, I was shocked to find out that this was a thing and that I would be doing this thing. 

On the bright side, many ultrasound techs will encourage you to insert the ultrasound wand yourself, and you get to see your baby, but if this is just not sitting well with you, an early ultrasound might be a good one to skip out on.

What Is The Ultrasound Technician Looking for?

Once the baby is visualized, the ultrasound tech can visualize the heart beating, but you likely will not be able to hear it at this point. Many of my clients go in for an early ultrasound to listen to their baby and come out disappointed that there was nothing to hear. So, if we cannot hear the heartbeat, what is the ultrasound tech looking for to check for a viable pregnancy? First of all, they are looking for the flicker of the heart beating and to make sure that the jellybean-looking fetus is measuring the correct size for gestation. And lastly, they are looking at the gestational sack and for a yolk sac formed before the placenta. Each of these is an indicator that your baby is doing alright.

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How Long Is The Procedure?

This first ultrasound is often quick. There just is not that much to look at. The anatomy scan at 20 weeks is much longer as the ultrasound tech needs to visualize a bunch of different body parts and anatomy and capture them for their report. Still, they don’t have as much to do at an early ultrasound. Mostly, early ultrasounds last less than 10 minutes from start to finish. If there are concerns or questions that the ultrasound tech is looking into, or if a tech is training, this scan can last up to 45 minutes but will likely be much shorter.

How Does Your Baby Look?

The last thing to note is that your baby will probably not look much like a baby at this point. Babies look slightly like tadpoles or jellybeans in the early weeks of pregnancy. If you get this ultrasound before eight weeks, you may not even be able to visualize a heartbeat because they have not yet developed that far. It is okay if you don’t think this odd-looking thing is adorable or feels like your baby. They are tiny and, quite frankly, don’t look like babies at this point, and that is okay. There is no right way to feel once you see your little one on an early ultrasound; acceptance of whatever you feel or don’t feel is the best way to go about it.

As you decide whether to get an early ultrasound, weigh whether it feels applicable and necessary or wanted for you and this pregnancy. There is much unknown information on how ultrasounds impact babies, so my rule is that the less, the better. You know what you and your little one need during this pregnancy, and if it is an early ultrasound, get one!


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