The Importance of Ultrasound

The human body has so much going on at any given moment, but the vast majority of its mechanisms cannot be seen by the human eye. With the introduction of modern diagnostic imaging however, we now have the ability to make what was once invisible, visible.

How does this apply to pregnancy?
The days of waiting until a baby bump emerges to see evidence of a pregnancy are long gone, especially with the invention of ultrasound machines. We now have the capability of checking in on human life much closer to its onset, with ultrasound machines being able to unveil pregnancy and a baby’s development as early as 6 weeks along (2). This is both fascinating and immensely helpful for the medical care of women who are pregnant, as this allows medical professionals to ensure the baby is growing appropriately and identify anything out of the ordinary a lot sooner than in previous decades. Instead of physicians making decisions based on well-educated guesswork, they can now use tangible images to more clearly identify, diagnose and treat pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions.

How do ultrasound machines work?
Ultrasound machines send high frequency sound waves in the direction of an organ (1). In the case of prenatal ultrasounds, the sound waves are aimed at a woman’s uterus and the surrounding female reproductive organs. Ultrasound machines process the soundwaves that bounce off the organs and generate an image of the internal tissue. We can see the resulting images displayed on the screen of the ultrasound machine.

What can an ultrasound tell me?

With this image made from those reflected sound waves, we can get a clearer idea of what’s going on within the womb. In the beginning stages of pregnancy, the important things to check using ultrasound are:
Location - It is important to ensure that your baby is growing in the correct location, i.e. the uterus. If the baby is implanted or growing anywhere besides the uterus, such as in the fallopian tubes, this is known as ectopic pregnancy, and it calls for immediate intervention (3).
Size - The measurements from an ultrasonic image can help medical professionals determine the gestational age of your baby and how far along you are in your pregnancy. This can often be more accurate than calculating how far along you are in your pregnancy based only on the first day of your last period (2).
Heartbeat - An ultrasound can identify a baby’s heartbeat typically between 6 and 7 weeks of pregnancy (5). This helps ensure that your baby is developing properly.

Ultrasound and the Abortion Pill
It is important to note that getting an ultrasound is recommended for any pregnant woman, regardless of her parenting decision. Whether a woman plans to carry a baby all 40 (ish) weeks or elects to have an abortion, it is still important to know how far along in your pregnancy you are. In the case of abortion, your gestational age will determine which types of abortion are recommended or available to you (4). In addition, it is important to know whether your baby is implanted in the uterus or not, which can be detected using ultrasound. If your baby is implanted outside of the uterus, also known as an ectopic pregnancy, then the abortion pill will not be effective in terminating your pregnancy and can mask the signs of a potential emergency, such as bleeding and severe cramping (4).

Where can I get an ultrasound?
Prenatal ultrasounds are most commonly performed in an OB/GYN’s office. It is recommended that all women who are pregnant establish care with a doctor who can monitor them appropriately throughout their pregnancy. For those who have not yet established care with an OB/GYN for their pregnancy, limited obstetric ultrasounds can also be performed at pregnancy resource centers, such as Paulding Pregnancy Services. You can book an appointment HERE to get pregnancy test confirmation, an ultrasound, and help with setting up insurance and establishing care with an OB/GYN. You can also give us a call to schedule at 770-222-6911 or text us at 470-397-5130.

NOTE: All Paulding Pregnancy Services clients must first come in for an in-house pregnancy test appointment before potentially being scheduled for an ultrasound. Eligibility for ultrasound depends on gestational age as well as a client's medical history, which will be reviewed with a Registered Nurse at the pregnancy test appointment. All services are free and at no cost to the client.

(1) Department of Health & Human Services. (2019, June 2). Ultrasound Scan. Better Health Channel.
(2) Cleveland Clinic. (2022, September 28). Ultrasound in Pregnancy: What to Expect, Purpose & Results. Cleveland Clinic.
(3) Baker, M., & de la Cruz , J. (n.d.). Ectopic Pregnancy, Ultrasound . NCBI Bookshelf - StatPearls.
(4) David Hager, MD. (2022). The Abortion Pill. Colorado Springs, CO; Focus On The Family.
(5) American Pregnancy Association. (2023, September 20). Early Fetal Development.