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The 20-Week Ultrasound

One of the highlight’s of pregnancy is the 20-week ultrasound. While it’s fun for the parents to see a picture of their baby developing and possibly to find out the sex of the child, this diagnostic test can help doctors get an excellent image of the baby’s overall health. Sometimes this test is performed a few weeks earlier than 20 weeks, beginning at around 18 weeks.

An ultrasound is an extremely safe way to monitor baby health throughout pregnancy, as the ultrasound equipment is free of radiation and is non-invasive. For the mother, there might be some very mild discomfort. Prior to the test, moms are asked to drink a fair amount of liquid in order to make the images as clear as possible. When the technician places the ultrasound probe on your belly and presses gently, this can be a bit uncomfortable due to the fact that you do have a full bladder. Otherwise, there should be no other discomfort involved.

While you might be interested in learning the sex and seeing your baby in general, the technician and your doctor are looking at some specific things during the test. For instance, by measuring and looking at development of the fetus, the age of the fetus can be determined more accurately, which can help clarify the due date.

The position of your placenta also will be looked at as well as the amount of amniotic fluid surrounding the fetus. One condition the tech will be looking for is evidence of placenta previa, which occurs when the placenta lies too low in the body, near the opening of the cervix. This condition is rare and can result in hemorrhaging during delivery, but this problem can avoided if necessary with a c-section delivery. Sometimes having that full bladder during the 20-week scan can make the placenta appear low, and further ultrasounds will be administered as your pregnancy progresses.

As for your baby, the technician and doctor also will be looking at the overall health of several internal organs as well as overall growth and development. The ultrasound machine will be used to take pictures of the chambers of the heart as well as looking at the heart valves. The tech also will take a look at the baby’s kidneys and stomach.

Brain development also will be looked at, and this scan is done during a point in pregnancy when many brain problems are visible, so if something unusual is seen, further tests will be scheduled and a more comprehensive ultrasound probably will be one of them. The technician also will use the ultrasound machine to look at facial development to check for issues such as a cleft palate as well as looking at the development of the spinal cord. Of course, you also get a good picture of the arms and legs and can check on the development of these limbs as well.

While you might be worried that the ultrasound machine will show a health issue with the baby, keep in mind that the vast majority of all pregnancies end up with a healthy baby. For most parents, this 20-week ultrasound ends with a welcome sigh of relief that the baby is doing well.

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