The importance of a sonogram

Having a pregnancy ultrasound (or sonogram, as it is also known) is standard practice for most moms-to-be, but if you're not familiar with the process it can be a bit scary. Fortunately, after having an ultrasound and taking home ultrasound pictures, many mothers report that they feel more bonded to their child and more relaxed about the health of the baby.

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A lot of information about your baby can be detected from an ultrasound. Measurements like heartbeat (though a fetal monitor may also be used for this), size and growth can be derived, and doctors can also use the ultrasound to determine your baby's gestational age. Baby ultrasound pictures can also be used to detect malformations and abnormalities in your baby before delivery, which means doctors can anticipate and even start treatment much more quickly whenever possible.

How Ultrasounds Work

Ultrasound machines use sound waves that bounce off the fetus within the womb, and these can be interpreted into a picture of the developing baby. The procedure causes no pain and is believed to be completely safe for the baby.

Getting an ultrasound typically starts with the mother lying on her back with her belly exposed. The doctor or nurse will apply a gel to the stomach and will move the ultrasound transducer (or wand) across the abdomen. The image will appear on the screen as the wand moves, giving you and your doctor your first look at the baby. Generally, your doctor will print copies of the sonogram pictures for you to take home.

3D and 4D Ultrasounds

Traditional ultrasounds produced a two-dimensional view of your baby, which in itself was pretty miraculous. Nowadays, modern technology allows for even more sophisticated imagery using 3D ultrasound and 4D ultrasound technology.

3D and 4D technology produces a three-dimensional view of a baby within the womb (4D simply indicates that a video is produced instead of a photo). There has been no evidence that 3D ultrasounds are any more detrimental than 2D ultrasounds, as they are simply used to provide doctors with more detailed images of the fetus and the mother's womb.

Many people elect to have what are known as "keepsake" ultrasounds, which are simply 3D or 4D ultrasounds that are done for no medical reason, but as a means for a mother to further bond with her baby. Not all medical practices will allow for these ultrasounds, however. Typically, the technology is only used in cases of suspected abnormalities, pregnancy complications or high-risk pregnancies where doctors could benefit from more information.