If you’re an expecting parent, you’re probably looking forward to your obstetrical ultrasound. It’s an exciting time, and an opportunity to “meet” your baby for the first time! But common myths about ultrasounds can skew expectations–and apprehensions.
An ultrasound is one of the most well-known diagnostic tests in medicine, especially as it relates to pregnancy. For pregnant individuals, an ultrasound is often your first chance to see your new baby, as well as an opportunity for your OBGYN or Midwife to check on the health and progression of your newest family member.
But there are some common ultrasound misconceptions that have developed, often due to the ways that ultrasound devices have been portrayed in popular media over the years. By correcting some of these common myths about ultrasounds, you can feel more confident and comfortable having your ultrasound completed and understanding the results.
Common Myths About Ultrasounds
Myth #1: Ultrasounds Use Radiation
X-rays, CT scans, and some other diagnostic devices may use small amounts of ionizing radiation in order to effectively create an image. But that’s not true with ultrasound devices. Instead of radiation, ultrasound relies on high-frequency sound waves. The sound waves travel through your body and reflect off of the tissue in the scanned area. The amniotic fluid in your uterus provides a perfect medium for these high frequency sound waves.
When those sound waves bounce back, a computer is able to extrapolate the general shape of what those sound waves bounce off of. You can think of it as an artificial form of echolocation.
As with many ultrasound myths, this particular misconception comes from a very understandable place. If you’re pregnant, you may worry about how even a small amount of radiation will harm your baby. Luckily, there is no radiation present in ultrasounds–which makes this an incredibly safe and effective diagnostic test for you and your baby.
Myth #2: Ultrasounds Create Perfect Images
Often, ultrasound imaging is portrayed in pop culture as almost like a photograph. And while it’s true that sometimes high resolution images can be obtained during this diagnostic, it’s important to keep in mind the inherent limitations of the technology. Ultrasound technology is not infallible. There may be errors or miscalculations, especially when it comes to:
- Gender: At 11 weeks, ultrasounds are roughly 70% accurate when it comes to predicting the sex of the infant. That accuracy increases to around 97% at 13 weeks. However, if your infant is crossing their legs or there are other obstructions, it can be difficult for your ultrasound provider to identify the sex of your child.
- Measurements: An ultrasound will usually deliver an estimate regarding your baby’s weight. However, it’s possible for these estimates to be off by as much as 10-20%. That said, even within this margin of error, these measurements do provide a useful baseline for charting your baby’s growth during your pregnancy if indicated.
It’s important to point out that ultrasound images are not always self-evident. Your OBGYN or Midwife will analyze the ultrasound’s findings, including heartbeat and estimated weight, to paint a picture of your baby’s health that’s as accurate as possible.
Myth #3: An Ultrasound Can Cause Early Pregnancy Loss if Performed During the First Three Months
There is absolutely no evidence to support one of the most harmful ultrasound myths: the notion that an ultrasound causes early pregnancy loss during the first trimester. However, there are a couple of understandable reasons why this misconception may have popped up.
- Ultrasounds are performed early: A single ultrasound is typically scheduled during your first trimester. This ultrasound is performed to estimate how long you’ve been pregnant and assess the health and growth of your baby Patients who have a history of early pregnancy loss may often want an ultrasound sooner rather than later. This first ultrasound helps determine dating and viability, while a second ultrasound performed around weeks 11-13 is often done for genetic screening purposes.
- Ultrasounds can detect problems during the first trimester: Your initial ultrasound is performed to assess the health of your baby–which means that sometimes this diagnostic will detect problems. A fetus that is not developing properly can often pose a risk to the pregnant individual and necessitate medical intervention. However, these interventions are due to the underlying condition–not due to the ultrasound.
An ultrasound is an incredibly safe and common procedure, and there’s no evidence these tests cause an increased risk of miscarriage–no matter what trimester they are performed in.
Myth #4: You Should Get an Ultrasound at Every Appointment
Throughout the course of your pregnancy, you’ll visit your OBGYN or Midwife often for periodic wellness checks. One of the most popular ultrasound myths is that you’ll be given an ultrasound at every one of these appointments. The reality is that most people will only undergo 2-3 ultrasound checks throughout the duration of their pregnancy.
There are several reasons for this:
- Additional ultrasounds typically are not necessary to ensure the health of you and your baby.
- An ultrasound test itself will typically only last ten minutes or so. At some clinics, it may take several hours or even an entire day for a radiologist to interpret your results and get back to you. At NSAGO, our ultrasound techs typically are able to do all of this on the spot, so patients do get results almost immediately. Then again, just because it’s a fast process doesn’t always mean it’s a necessary one!
Most insurance carriers will only cover a limited number of obstetrical ultrasounds per pregnancy so it’s important to know if yours has a limit unless medically necessary. In some cases, your ultrasound may uncover issues that need to be regularly monitored. In those cases, more frequent ultrasounds will be warranted all the way to birth.
Myth #5: 3D Ultrasounds Are Superior to 2D Ultrasounds
When it comes to technology, there’s an understandable impulse to automatically assume that newer means better. So-called three dimensional (3D) ultrasounds take a series of images and use a computer algorithm to stitch those images together into a 3D representation of your baby.
Because they function utilizing the same technology as 2D ultrasounds, 3D ultrasounds are not necessarily superior. To be sure, the images the ultrasound creates can sometimes be more instructive, more illuminating, or feel more real. That’s why 3D ultrasounds can sometimes be quite effective at spotting issues such as possible birth defects.
There are several available variations on ultrasound technology (even 4D or 5D ultrasounds). Your OBGYN or Midwife will know which diagnostic will be most useful to you at any given time.
Talk to Your OBGYN or Midwife About Your Ultrasound
There are even more common myths about ultrasounds floating around–especially in these days of the internet. But the bottom line is that an ultrasound is an incredibly safe and routine diagnostic procedure.
That doesn’t mean you won’t have questions or concerns, both of which are entirely understandable. The best place to get individualized answers is from your OBGYN or Midwife.