When Will I Have my First Ultrasound?

When to Expect Your First Glimpse of Your Baby

The image may look more like a blob than anything distinguishable, but it's your little blob, which makes the first ultrasound one of the highlights of your prenatal visits. This common prenatal imaging test can happen during any trimester, but most pregnant women have a standard ultrasound sometime during the second trimester. Knowing what to expect when it comes to ultrasounds helps you prepare for your first glimpse of your little one.

Purpose of Ultrasounds

Pregnant woman holding ultrasound image

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You want to see the ultrasound images, so you can check out that wiggling little baby that's making your belly grow, but the sonogram is an important way for your doctor to check on your baby's health. Doctors can detect lots of things from an ultrasound. The purpose of the ultrasound can determine when it should be scheduled.

Some reasons for ultrasounds include:

  • Confirming the pregnancy
  • Determining how far along you are
  • Checking the baby's heart rate
  • Finding out if you're having multiples
  • Checking for problems with your placenta, ovaries, uterus or cervix
  • Looking at the anatomy and development to determine if there are problems
  • Determining the baby's position

Timing of Your First Ultrasound

Most women have an ultrasound during the second trimester somewhere around the 20-week mark. Sometimes called an anatomy scan, this ultrasound focuses on your child's anatomy and development to make sure everything is on track. Expect the test to last 20 to 45 minutes for a single baby. This is also the ultrasound that can reveal the baby's gender if you want to know it.

Reasons to Have an Earlier Ultrasound

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Some doctors routinely perform ultrasounds during the first trimester. Others do an early ultrasound only if there is a suspected problem or if the doctor needs more information. Sonograms are often used in the first trimester if the mom-to-be isn't sure when she had her last period. The images help the doctor calculate the approximate age of the baby to get a better calculation for the due date.

Another common reason for an early ultrasound is to determine if you're having more than one baby. Whether twins run in your family or it sounds like there could be more than one heartbeat, the doctor may decide to take a peek to find out for sure.

Your doctor might also perform an early ultrasound if you're having a problem in your pregnancy, such as bleeding or unusual pain. The ultrasound can check for things like an ectopic pregnancy or a problem with the baby or placenta.

What to Expect at Your First Ultrasound

For an ultrasound, you lie on your back or slightly upright on the exam table. The test is not painful at all. You may have a view of a screen, so you can see what the ultrasound tech sees.

Because your tummy and baby are so small in the first trimester, the doctor may use a transvaginal ultrasound if you have an early imaging test. A thin transducer probe goes into your vagina to get a better picture of what's happening in your uterus. This type of ultrasound isn't painful, but be prepared to have the transducer inserted into your vagina. Your doctor may also want you to have a full bladder for an ultrasound in the first trimester because the liquid helps the sound waves travel better.

If your first ultrasound is during the second trimester, expect a lot of cold goo on your tummy. The gel helps the transducer slide across your belly, so the ultrasound tech can get clear images from different angles. Wear a shirt and top instead of a dress or one-piece outfit to this appointment to easily expose your belly without completely undressing.

Ultrasounds by Trimester

You can have an ultrasound during any trimester of pregnancy, although they're most common during the first and second trimester. The reason for the ultrasound is often different depending on when you have it. The experience may also be slightly different.

In the first trimester, the ultrasound is often used to confirm a healthy pregnancy, check for multiples and calculate a specific due date. It's also becoming more common to have an ultrasound between 9 and 13 weeks to check for problems like Down syndrome.

The second-trimester ultrasound typically involves the transducer being moved on your belly to get the images the doctor needs. The main goal of this ultrasound is to check things like growth, amniotic fluid level, placenta placement and other issues that could indicate a problem.

Most women don't have ultrasounds in the third trimester, but there are some situations that may call for the imaging test later in your pregnancy. If there are any concerns about the baby's growth, your placenta or the amniotic fluid levels, your doctor may use an ultrasound to get a closer look. Moms over the age of 35 may have more monitoring than younger moms, so you could have more ultrasounds into the third trimester if you fall into this category. If you miss your due date with no signs of labor, an ultrasound can verify that your amniotic fluid levels are still good. It's another way for your doctor to monitor your overdue baby.