Why is this low-risk only? Because high-risk pregnancies or pregnancies with more monitoring for whatever reason will likely have more frequent ultrasounds outside the “normal schedule”. Please also note that this post is as usual, based on my local ultrasound scheduling in the province of Ontario. As always I will try to provide some links to other sources if needed. Your best resource is your healthcare provider if you have questions.
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. This blog is for informational purposes only. If you have questions about your health. please direct them to your primary care provider.
Ultrasounds for Low-Risk Pregnancies
Generally speaking, you can opt to receive two ultrasounds in pregnancy. These would be offered for around 12 weeks (Nuchal Translucency which I wrote about here) and 18-22 weeks (Anatomic ultrasound).
Some people may also have an earlier ultrasound which is sometimes referred to as a dating ultrasound – this would be offered if there is any confusion around the approximate weeks of pregnancy the person is (so for someone who is not sure when they became pregnant, has an irregular cycle making prediction more difficult, etc.).
They may also do an earlier ultrasound like this (or one at any in-between interval) if there is any cause for potential concern or if they need to revisit any findings, look at the cause of a symptom, etc. For example: I had an early ultrasound (8 weeks) with my second pregnancy now because I had some spotting, alongside some bloodwork (as a precaution). All was well!
Sometimes in third trimester if you go “post-dates” or after your due date, you may need additional ultrasounds to check on baby, confirm positioning and so on and so forth.
You can read more about the various ultrasounds throughout pregnancy offered in Canada here.
Keep in mind that of course, like any medical test, treatment, or procedure these are not “forced” on you – but the routine ultrasounds are recommended as part of complete prenatal care.
So to outline the schedule, for “routine” ultrasounds:
- A dating ultrasound (potentially, not always done) @ ~7-12 weeks, may be earlier in some situations
- NT ultrasound (if you choose to pursue it) @ Around 12 weeks
- Anatomy ultrasound @ 18-22 weeks
How to Prepare
Either your primary care provider for your maternity care or the ultrasound lab will give you instructions prior to your appointment. Before ~32 weeks, it is generally requested that you drink 1L of water prior to your appointment. This can be hard when you are getting more pregnant, or even earlier on! The reason this is requested, especially earlier on when your uterus and baby are not as big, is to fill the bladder to increase visualization.
My tips would be to drink the water over the hour but also pay attention to when your bladder feels full! Everyone’s capacity will be a bit different. Bring the water bottle with you in case you need to have more. Often if it’s overfilled, especially for the anatomy scan, the technician will let you go to the bathroom after some initial visualization is completed.
Are ultrasounds harmful to my baby?
I know this is a concern for a lot of people. Especially with the advent of 3D/4D ultrasound clinics or private pay clinics where people can go in to get scans outside of the routine, MD ordered scans.
In terms of the number of ultrasounds – high risk or monitored pregnancies will often have more ultrasounds, so the risk likely remains as above however.. in regards to 3D/4D or additional ultrasounds at private clinics there are some recommendations against them.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States recommends against these types (3D/4D or boutique/private) of ultrasounds. This is partly because sometimes the people operating the ultrasounds at these locations are not trained to the same level as a technician in a proper clinic. The other side is that your doctor hasn’t told you to go for this ultrasound or recommended it. The FDA recommends that ultrasounds should only be done when they are medically necessary – so as per routine recommendations in pregnancy (whether that be the low-risk schedule or your own personalized monitoring as per your OB/PCP). This advice is notably echoed by other institutions and countries.
This is an older document from 2009 but still worth a read if you are looking at Health Canada’s recommendations – they echo the advice of the FDA.
If you are considering these things, I’d encourage you to speak to your healthcare provider about risks/benefits so you can have a detailed and in-depth conversation where all your concerns will be addressed.
My Honest Experience
I’ll be honest – because I always try to be honest in these posts. This is me writing, from a personal standpoint in my own blog after all.
We did both our routine ultrasounds with Maggie (NT and anatomy) and we actually did have a 3D/4D ultrasound done as it was gifted to us. I’ll be honest – I was SUPER paranoid going to have it done because I had of course read all the recommendations/information. Seeing the baby was of course, amazing though. We have some photos and a keepsake bear with heartbeat from it and it is really cool. I obviously will not and cannot say that anyone should pursue this – but I know many people do. As I said above – please talk to your healthcare provider about this.
I am not sure we will pursue this again – partly because $$ but also because it did cause me some anxiety last time. I also of course, as a professional, like to follow the recommendations myself – but I am also a human being so I am happy to be honest and share my experience.
As always, if you have questions about scheduling or frequency of ultrasounds – your best resource is your care provider who is ordering these diagnostics. They are also a great resource for any questions about risks/benefits or other concerns. Best wishes to all!