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5 common types of ultrasounds and how they are used

You just found out you are pregnant and can’t wait for your first doctor’s appointment. The first ultrasound is proof of your baby bean, giving you your first glimpse of your baby.

Ultrasounds, also called sonograms, provide images of your developing baby. Ultrasounds not only provide you with a keepsake image of your growing baby, but these scans also give your doctor vital information about your baby’s growth and development.

The grainy black-and-white ultrasound photo we are familiar with is a popular way for expectant parents to share their big news. But, did you know there are other types of ultrasounds, too? Several types of ultrasounds exist and can give you different information about your pregnancy.

How many types of ultrasound scans are there?

The American Pregnancy Association lists seven types of ultrasounds. Each style of ultrasound can deliver unique information about your baby’s health and progress. You may experience multiple types of ultrasounds throughout your pregnancy.

Here are five common ultrasounds and how they’re used:

Transvaginal ultrasound

Usually used at your first appointment or toward the beginning of pregnancy, this ultrasound technique utilizes a wand inserted in the vagina. Once inside, your doctor will move the wand around to find the womb and developing fetus.

The transvaginal scan is used to confirm your pregnancy and make sure everything looks good and that your fetus is healthy. Your doctor can see if the fertilized egg is implanted correctly and measure the heartbeat.

2D ultrasound

A 2D scan is what you traditionally see depicted in movies and television. Your doctor will squirt lubricating jelly on your belly to guide the wand across your abdomen, listening to the baby’s heartbeat and examining your uterus.

Many doctors schedule a traditional 2D scan around the 20-week mark of your pregnancy. Your 2D scan provides information on the size of the baby and is used to check the baby’s organ development. You can also learn the baby’s sex. Most offices give parents printed 2D images to take home with them.

Advanced ultrasound

An advanced ultrasound uses the same technology as a 2D scan, but the images with an advanced ultrasound are sharper. The equipment used is more advanced which provides better pictures of your fetus.

A doctor may order an advanced ultrasound if she was unable to see parts of your baby well enough or if he saw something concerning in the traditional scan. For example, you may need an advanced ultrasound if your baby’s positioning made it challenging for the tech to get images of all chambers of the heart.

3D ultrasound

Although a 2D ultrasound allows doctors to examine all your baby’s parts, the images can be challenging for parents to make out. 3D ultrasounds follow the same procedure as a 2D scan, but use several 2D images placed together to create a 3D image of your baby.

Doctors may use a 3D ultrasound if they suspect an outward abnormality, like a cleft palate, and need a clearer image. Parents can now seek private 3D ultrasound companies to view more detailed images of their babies.

4D ultrasound

Taking your baby-viewing experience one step farther, a 4D ultrasound provides similar imaging to a 3D ultrasound, but with the added excitement of movement. You can watch your baby blink her eyelashes or suck on his hand.

Like 2D and 3D ultrasounds, the process involves guiding the ultrasound wand across the mother’s belly to locate images of the baby, while the technology creates a 4D rendering of your little one. Parents leave with video keepsakes of their 4D scan.

During your pregnancy, you will most likely receive a transvaginal ultrasound and a 2D ultrasound. Both of these scans will give your doctor helpful information about your pregnancy and your baby’s development.

Because of advances in technology, you now have more options than your own mother or grandma did. Although the 2D scan is typical, your doctor may order an advanced ultrasound or a 3D scan to get a better glimpse at your baby. You can ask your doctor if these scans are an option.

If not, you can always seek out private 3D and 4D ultrasound companies. Most likely, you will be provided with a photo or video keepsake of your growing baby.

So many moments in pregnancy are special, but arguably one of the best is that first glimpse of your baby on that ultrasound screen. No matter which type your doctor gives you, it’s bound to be a moment that you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

Whitney Sandoval
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Whitney Sandoval is a freelance writer and educator living in the Midwest. She writes about parenting, accessibility, and…
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