Obstetric Ultrasound is the use of ultrasound scans in pregnancy.
Currently used equipments are known as real-time scanners, with which a continous picture of the moving fetus can be depicted on a monitor screen. Very high frequency sound waves of are generally used for this purpose.
They are emitted from a transducer which is placed in contact with the maternal abdomen, and is moved to "look at" any particular content of the uterus.
The information obtained from different reflections are recomposed back into a picture on the monitor screen (a sonogram, or ultrasonogram). Movements such as fetal heart beat and malformations in the feus can be assessed and measurements can be made accurately on the images displayed on the screen. Such measurements form the cornerstone in the assessment of gestational age, size and growth in the fetus.
A full bladder is often required for the procedure when abdominal scanning is done in early pregnency. There may be some discomfort from pressure on the full bladder. The conducting gel is non-staining but may feel slightly cold and wet. There is no sensation at all from the ultrasound waves.
Main uses of ultrasounds during pregnancy
1. Diagnosis and confirmation of early pregnancy.
The gestational sac can be visualized as early as four and a half weeks of gestation and the yolk sac at about five weeks. The embryo can be observed and measured by about five and a half weeks. Ultrasound can also very importantly confirm the site of the pregnancy is within the cavity of the uterus.
2. Vaginal bleeding in early pregnancy.
The viability of the fetus can be documented in the presence of vaginal bleeding in early pregnancy. A visible heartbeat could be seen and detectable by pulsed doppler ultrasound by about 6 weeks and is usually clearly depictable by 7 weeks. If this is observed, the probability of a continued pregnancy is better than 95 percent. Missed abortions and blighted ovum will usually give typical pictures of a deformed gestational sac and absence of fetal poles or heart beat.
3. Determination of gestational age and assessment of fetal size.
Fetal body measurements reflect the gestational age of the fetus. This is particularly true in early gestation. In patients with uncertain last menstrual periods, such measurements must be made as early as possible in pregnancy to arrive at a correct dating for the patient. See FAQ. In the latter part of pregnancy measuring body parameters will allow assessment of the size and growth of the fetus and will greatly assist in the diagnosis and management of intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR).
The following measurements are usually made:
a) The Crown-rump length (CRL)
This measurement can be made between 7 to 13 weeks and gives very accurate estimation of the gestational age. Dating with the CRL can be within 3-4 days of the last menstrual period. (Table) An important point to note is that when the due date has been set by an accurately measured CRL, it should not be changed by a subsequent scan. For example, if another scan done 6 or 8 weeks later says that one should have a new due date which is further away, one should not normally change the date but should rather interpret the finding as that the baby is not growing at the expected rate.
b) The Biparietal diameter (BPD)
The diameter between the 2 sides of the head. This is measured after 13 weeks. It increases from about 2.4 cm at 13 weeks to about 9.5 cm at term. Different babies of the same weight can have different head size, therefore dating in the later part of pregnancy is generally considered unreliable.
c) The Femur length (FL)
Measures the longest bone in the body and reflects the longitudinal growth of the fetus. Its usefulness is similar to the BPD. It increases from about 1.5 cm at 14 weeks to about 7.8 cm at term. (Chart and further comments) Similar to the BPD, dating using the FL should be done as early as is feasible.
d) The Abdominal circumference (AC)
The single most important measurement to make in late pregnancy. It reflects more of fetal size and weight rather than age. Serial measurements are useful in monitoring growth of the fetus. (Chart and further comments) AC measurements should not be used for dating a fetus.
Other important measurements are discussed here.
The weight of the fetus at any gestation can also be estimated with great accuracy using polynomial equations containing the BPD, FL, and AC. computer softwares and lookup charts are readily available. For example, a BPD of 9.0 cm and an AC of 30.0 cm will give a weight estimate of 2.85 kg. (comments)
My own experience: Follow carefully your baby´s weigh, I ended up with an induced labor because of this. The baby wasn´t growing any more in my belly and it was better for him to be outside.