Written by Angela Nicholson – Nurse Practitioner
Many people are unaware that the concept of ultrasound was initially realised in the 1800s. But was not incorporated into pregnancy care and gynaecology until 1958. In the 1980’s 3D ultrasound technology was developed in Tokyo with the first 3D images of a baby seen in 1986. In the 1990s, 4D ultrasound, being able to see the images 3D but in real time, was possible.
Traditional and 3D ultrasound have revolutionised pregnancy care in this generation. Our mothers and grandmothers received very different care to that of today. Being able to detect problems and improve the outcome for mother and baby is vital. It is also an exciting opportunity to see your baby in the womb.
From all this wonderful technology it is not surprising that myths or ‘old wives tales’ still exist. Hopefully this will aim to put those to rest.
Ultrasounds are bad for the baby
There is no evidence that ultrasounds are harmful to the baby. There are some risks such as increased heat, but all trained sonographers abide by safety rules which limit the examination time and maintain the lowest power settings needed to obtain the information necessary.
Ultrasounds use radiation
This is NOT true. X-Rays use radiation, ultrasound does not. Ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves and when they come into contact with the baby, they bounce back towards the transducer. The computer in the ultrasound machine then builds a picture which is visible on the screen.
You should not have an ultrasound in the first trimester
This myth likely comes from the myth about radiation, and as described above, is not true. There is no evidence that an early ultrasound scan has an adverse effect on the baby. Many hospitals use early ultrasound to check the baby’s viability if a woman has pain or bleeding. Couples who have had a previous pregnancy loss often wish to make sure their baby is viable prior to the first NHS scan and this can be a great comfort.
3D ultrasounds use stronger sound waves than 2D ultrasounds
The same frequency is used in both scans. The 3D image is made by the computer building lots of layers of the 2D images.
You can be 100% accurate of the baby’s gender with ultrasound
Current statistics report the accuracy of an ultrasound determining the baby’s gender is 97%. It is offered after 16/40 and is more accurate at 17-18/40. The accuracy can be reduced due to the baby’s position in the womb or if the baby has his/her legs crossed underneath their bottom.
Ultrasounds are not invasive
This is true if the scan is performed abdominally. This is more common from 8-10 weeks of pregnancy and requires a full bladder. However if a pregnancy is earlier it is very tiny and low in the pelvis, so a transvaginal or internal scan may be recommended. This is completely safe for both mother and baby. The probe is inserted gently into the first part of the vagina and is not painful. Much clearer views of a tiny baby can be seen this way.
Hopefully discussing these myths has helped to ease any concerns you may have, had and enable you to relax and enjoy your ultrasound scan experience.