Parents are typically very excited about this scan because they can find out the sex of their baby, but it is also very important for understanding the overall health of the baby and taking crucial measurements. On a recent episode of Healthful Woman, Dr. Steven Inglis explained this exam and why it is important. Here are the basics that you should know.
When Will I Have an Anatomy Ultrasound?
The anatomy scan ultrasound is typically performed during the second trimester, between 18 and 22 weeks. During your ultrasound, your technician will be very focused on the exam, so do not worry if they are less talkative throughout the procedure. After your scan is complete, you will have the chance to ask any questions and discuss the results with the Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist.
Why are Anatomy Ultrasounds Necessary?
Anatomy scans are important because they akin to you babies’ first physical exam, to make sure everything looks normal. They allow you and your medical team to best prepare for the health and care of your baby. Dr. Inglis explains that “basically, it’s an opportunity for us to figure out if there’s anything that we actually need to do that will help this kid, either during the pregnancy, during delivery, or even long-term.” For example, some babies will require intervention or care from a cardiologist immediately after their birth due to heart problems that can be detected on ultrasounds. Others may require a C-section birth because of various anatomical complications. Also, longer term health care needs may arise after an anatomy ultrasound. This gives the parents an opportunity to educate themselves about a condition before their baby is born, by meeting doctors ahead of time to arrange future medical care, or even relocating so their child could receive better special education.
What Do Obstetricians Look For in Anatomy Scans?
During your anatomy scan, your ultrasound technician and obstetrician will essentially look at every structure from head-to-toe. In addition, they will check the positioning of the placenta, the umbilical cord, and the amount of amniotic fluid.
The Brain and Spine
When examining the brain, your technician will check that the fluid-filled spaces within the brain, the shape of the cerebellum, and the connections between the parts of the brain. Also the spine will be examined to be sure it is normally developed. The baby’s spine will also be examined both in a cross section and longitudinal view. This allows us to see that the vertebrae are aligned properly and the skin covers the spine as it should.
The primary concern with the face is to check for a cleft lip or palate. This is the fourth most common birth defect in the United States but can be corrected with reconstructive surgery that can be arranged shortly after birth. Frequently an appointment can arranged so the parents can meet with the pediatric specialist who performs this surgery. Depending on the position of the baby, it may not be possible to scan the face during this appointment.
Because congenital heart defects are among the most common causes of infant deaths, prenatal diagnoses are important. It is important that there are four chambers of proper size and that the vessels flowing in and out of the heart are in a normal arrangement. They will also ensure that the heart appears to be functioning normally. Dr. Inglis explains that “it’s been found over time that if you just get a few extra views of the heart, you can largely rule that anything wrong with that heart” and that babies whose hearts appear normal “should have a very functional and good heart for life.”
While examining the heart, the position of the stomach and other major organs within the abdomen will also be evaluated.
Finally, your technician will check the extremities, ensuring that the baby’s limbs, hands, and feet are all developing normally.