Ultrasound During Pregnancy: How Often Should You Get It Done?

Having an ultrasound during pregnancy can be exciting, especially if you would like to know the sex of your baby.

In addition to finding out what you’re having, your doctor uses ultrasounds to learn more about your baby’s development and to ensure your pregnancy is healthy. 

Most people don’t go into pregnancy with a working knowledge of ultrasounds.

Could they be risky for you or your baby? Will they cost too much? Are they required? We’ll answer these questions and discuss the different types of ultrasounds you might have while pregnant. 

What Is an Ultrasound?

An ultrasound is a safe method of seeing what’s inside your uterus without an invasive procedure. Using a special machine and a transducer wand, an ultrasound technician or your doctor will send sound waves into your uterus.

The sound waves bounce off of whatever is inside and create an image. This type of sound-wave imaging is also known as sonography.

Ultrasounds are used in many areas of medicine, not just obstetrics.

You may receive an ultrasound of your heart to determine blood flow or your breast to look for abnormalities.

If you become pregnant and have never had an ultrasound, you might have some questions about whether they are safe and required.

Do You Have To Get an Ultrasound When You Are Pregnant?

The short answer is no. You don’t have to get an ultrasound during pregnancy unless your doctor requires you to. 

Ultrasounds are considered standard procedures for every healthy pregnancy. Your doctor uses them to:

  • Determine your baby’s gender
  • Measure proper growth and development
  • Look for abnormalities and possible congenital disabilities 

They also use ultrasounds to check the baby’s housing (aka your uterus).

They’ll look for amniotic fluid levels to be healthy and examine the placement of the placenta. Most doctors rely on ultrasound imaging as part of prenatal care

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that every pregnant person have an ultrasound at least once during their pregnancy, usually between weeks 18 and 22.

Additionally, some doctors may require that their patients have an ultrasound (or several) as part of their practice. 

If you don’t want to have an ultrasound, talk to your doctor about your options. It’s also worth noting that if you do not want to know your baby’s sex, you can still have an ultrasound to check your baby’s health.

Just be sure to let the doctor or technician know you don’t want to know the sex. 

What Are the Risks of Having an Ultrasound While Pregnant?

Ultrasounds have been used in obstetrics for over 30 years and have no evidence of being harmful to you or your baby.

They are one of the safest ways to gauge your baby’s health and development.

Because sound waves create a visual picture of your baby, it’s safe for you to have multiple ultrasounds during any portion of your pregnancy

If you have concerns about the safety of ultrasounds, talk to your doctor.

Also, if you plan to have an ultrasound at a non-medical retailer (a 3-D or 4-D ultrasound), talk to your doctor to ensure you are far enough in your pregnancy to have them done. 

When Should You Get Pregnancy Ultrasounds?

For normal, healthy pregnancies, two ultrasounds are relatively standard. 

Early Ultrasound 

This ultrasound is in early pregnancy before 14 weeks of gestation, usually between weeks 11 and 14.

Your doctor uses this ultrasound to confirm your pregnancy during the first trimester, measure your baby’s heartbeat and heart rate, determine your due date, and look for any early developmental issues with your baby or your uterus and the amniotic sac. 

This early ultrasound scan will also tell your doctor if you have more than one baby and ensure you do not have an ectopic pregnancy or molar pregnancy. 

Many parents-to-be attempting to get pregnant may wish to have an early ultrasound exam before their doctor plans to order one.

It’s best to wait until your doctor thinks the time is right for the first-trimester ultrasound. Otherwise, you could cause undue stress if your baby is still too small to be seen on the sonogram. 

Anatomy Ultrasound 

You will have another ultrasound during the second trimester, typically around week 20.

This is an exciting ultrasound and usually how your doctor determines your baby’s sex.

While you are likely excited to know what you’re having, your doctor will rule out developmental abnormalities, inspect your baby’s spine, check your amniotic fluid levels, and ensure your baby is in the proper position for birth (head down).

Though these two ultrasounds are considered standard, you may have more or less in your pregnancy.

If you are advanced in maternal age at the time of your pregnancy (age 35 or older) or if you have certain health conditions, your doctor may want more frequent ultrasounds.

Additionally, your doctor may want to check your baby’s growth and development more frequently if there is an abnormality. 

Types of Ultrasounds

There’s more than one way to have an ultrasound, as you probably already know. In the last decade, 3-D and 4-D ultrasounds have become so popular that you can even purchase them from non-medical retail venues as a keepsake. 

Transvaginal Ultrasound

If you have an ultrasound early in your pregnancy (before ten weeks), your doctor will likely perform a transvaginal ultrasound.

You will lie on your back for these procedures, and the technician or medical professional will use a transducer inserted into the vagina to scan and collect pictures of your uterus and baby. 

This type of ultrasound is more invasive, but it is not painful and does not take longer than a transabdominal ultrasound.

Transabdominal Ultrasound

You are probably familiar with transabdominal ultrasounds. Using a lubricant, your technician or doctor will glide the transducer over your stomach.

The lubricant helps the transducer collect sound waves and provides a clearer image of what’s inside your uterus. 

Most of the ultrasounds you will receive from your OB-GYN will be this kind of ultrasound. 

Doppler Ultrasound

If you have certain underlying conditions or your doctor wants to determine your baby’s blood flow, they may order a Doppler ultrasound.

These ultrasounds work like transabdominal ultrasounds, but they have a special feature that allows them to bounce sound waves off red blood cells to help the doctor know how much blood is flowing in your baby’s veins. 

A Doppler ultrasound can determine the health and blood flow of the umbilical cord if your doctor suspects your baby is not growing or developing as they should. 

3-D Ultrasound

Although these ultrasounds are for medical use, they are now wildly popular for future parents to get a clear picture of their developing baby.

3-D ultrasounds are transabdominal and collect thousands of pictures as the transducer scans your baby. 

These pictures are then collected to create an image of your baby that is clearer and three-dimensional, giving you a better idea of what your baby will look like.

Medically, your doctor may order a 3-D ultrasound to check for facial abnormalities or to get a closer look at your baby’s organs.

4-D Ultrasound

If a crystal-clear picture of your developing baby isn’t enough, a 4-D ultrasound, which includes video movement of your baby, might do the trick.

Typically, your doctor will likely not need to rely on a 4-D ultrasound to rule out abnormalities with your baby.

Still, a 4-D ultrasound can provide an amazing experience for a parent-to-be as you watch your baby move, suck its thumb, or make wave-like motions with its hands. 

Keep in mind that with 3-D and 4-D ultrasounds given by non-medical retail facilities, you risk receiving incorrect information from the sonographer.

Discuss it with your doctor if you want to purchase one of these ultrasounds. 

How Much Does an Ultrasound Cost?

If you’re worried about the cost associated with an ultrasound, it’s always a good idea to discuss this with your doctor. Most insurance carriers cover the cost of at least one ultrasound during pregnancy, with many carriers covering up to two. 

If you decide to purchase a 3-D or 4-D ultrasound that your doctor does not order, you will have to pay the price determined by the retailer, which can range from one hundred to one thousand dollars. 

Sometimes, ultrasound costs can seem out of reach. Many pregnancy centers and health departments offer low-cost or free ultrasounds to people who need them. Your healthcare provider can help you find a resource. 

Seeing Is Believing

If you are surprised to be pregnant, an ultrasound can help make it more of a reality. It’s also one of the easiest ways for your doctor to determine the health and well-being of your baby. 

Ultrasounds are safe, effective, and a standard part of most pregnancies. Ultrasound uses can vary from pertinent medical information to purely keepsake. 

References, Studies and Sources:

Ultrasound | Mayo Clinic 

Pregnancy without ultrasound? Pros and cons | UT Southwest Medical Center

Ultrasound during pregnancy | March of Dimes.org