This information page is for future parents who would like to have access to fetal ultrasound screening during pregnancy

 

FETAL ULTRASOUNDS

 

WHAT IS IT?

Ultrasound is an imaging technique that provides images of your unborn child, thanks to ultrasound waves that are emitted by a probe and bounce back from the fetus. This technique, when performed by experienced medical staff, has no known risk. This explains its widespread use in medical practice, including during the antenatal period. Doppler ultrasound is based on the same principle and is used to evaluate blood flow in the fetus, placenta and maternal uterus in an effort to assess the efficiency of mother-fetus exchange and the well being of the fetus.

During pregnancy, three (3) ultrasounds of your baby may be suggested: in the first trimester, the second trimester, and the third trimester.

 

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EXAMINATION PURPOSE

Ultrasound provides information—in accordance with the gestation period—that is essential to a good follow-up of a pregnancy: exact age of the pregnancy, number of fetuses, fetal growth and efficiency of exchange between mother and fetus with Doppler ultrasound, and a review of fetal morphology. Depending on the result, additional investigations may be suggested, such as a blood karyotype analysis—an examination of the baby’s chromosomes.

If you do not want your baby to be screened for malformations, you should tell the physician or technologist performing the ultrasound examination.

 

FIRST TRIMESTER ULTRASOUND

This ultrasound is performed between the 11th and 14th week of pregnancy to:

  • determine the exact age of the pregnancy. (When this is not the same as the presumed age, the date obtained from the ultrasound is generally used to determine the approximate date of delivery.)
  • determine the number of fetuses
  • determine more precisely your risk of carrying a fetus with trisomy 21 (Down syndrome), trisomy 18 (Edwards syndrome) or trisomy 13 (Patau syndrome)
  • predict the risk of developing certain adverse events, such as preeclampsia, fetal growth retardation and preterm labor, later in pregnancy.

 

SECOND TRIMESTER ULTRASOUND

This ultrasound is performed between the 18th and 22nd week to:

  • monitor fetal development (measurements include head diameter, abdominal circumference and femur length)
  • screen for malformations
  • occasionally produce 3D images without assessing morphology.

 

If any problems arise, another examination may be suggested to complete the anatomical assessment, monitor the baby’s growth or get a second opinion from a centre specializing in antenatal diagnosis.

 

THIRD TRIMESTER ULTRASOUND

This ultrasound is sometimes performed, on request, at around the 32nd week to:

  • assess the baby’s growth
  • assess the baby’s well being
  • determine the baby’s and placenta’s positions.

 

EXAMINATION PROCEDURE

The examination will be performed by a physician or registered technologist qualified in ultrasound.

Thanks to modern ultrasound techniques, you no longer need to drink before the examination to fill your bladder; in fact, an empty bladder is generally preferable.

During the examination, you will be lying down in a darkened room to make it easier to read the images.

An ultrasound probe is placed on your abdomen after some gel has been applied. This allows the emission and reception of ultrasound waves, which are required to assess the anatomy of the fetus, dimensions and annexes (umbilical cord, placenta, membranes, amniotic fluid).

In some cases, a transvaginal ultrasound—in which a probe is inserted into the vagina—is suggested to improve visualization of certain parts of the fetus or its annexes. You are free to accept or refuse this examination, and must inform us of your decision.

The total examination time varies (15 to 30 minutes on average) depending on the conditions in which the ultrasound is performed.

You will be given some feedback during the examination. This will be just a first impression; a written report will be sent as soon as possible to your treating physician, who will discuss with you what the results mean and recommend additional investigations or treatments if he or she sees fit.

Please remember to give details of your personal and family medical history, and say if you have a history of pathological pregnancy.

You will be able to follow the procedure on the screen with the sonographer at all times.  Please do not hesitate to ask any questions.

 

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