What You Should Know About the Anatomy Ultrasound

ultrasound
Image via Mindi Stavish

Halfway through your pregnancy, you will experience one of my favorite parts of pregnancy: the anatomy scan. The anatomy scan is a level 2 ultrasound, which is typically performed between 18 and 22 weeks. Other than finding out the sex of your baby (if you want to know), the ultrasound technician will be taking many measurements of your baby.

Since the technician will be concentrating on the screen, they may or may not talk you through the examination. Don't be afraid to ask questions, though. I find that it's best to go in with an idea of what the technician will be looking for specifically and a written list of questions.

Brain

The technician will be assessing the fluid-filled spaces inside the brain and the shape of the cerebellum, which is in the back of the brain. He or she will also be able to identify if any cysts are in the choroid plexus, which is a tissue in the brain that produces cerebrospinal fluid. Fetal cysts may indicate an increased risk for a chromosome abnormality; however, the majority of these cysts disappear by the 28th week of pregnancy with no effect on the baby. 

{ MORE: New Study Links Antibiotics During Pregnancy To Birth Defects }

Face

Depending on the positioning of your baby, the technician may or may not be able to detect if your baby has a cleft lip. Rarely are they able to detect if there is a cleft of the palate. According to The Cleft Palate Foundation, clefts of the lip and palate are the fourth most common birth defect, affecting 1 out of every 600 newborns in the US.

Due to the number of oral health and medical problems associated with a cleft lip or palate, a team of doctors and other specialists will be involved in the care of your baby after birth. If it is determined that your baby does have a cleft lip during the ultrasound, it is helpful to research facilities that can provide the medical treatment your baby will need prior to birth.

Heart

Congenital Heart Defects are one of the leading causes of birth defects and infant death. A prenatal diagnosis can prepare you and your medical team to provide your infant with the best medical care possible throughout your pregnancy and after birth. Here are the important questions you will want to ask your technician:

  • Do you see four chambers? What You Should Know About the Anatomy Ultrasound
  • Do you look at the arteries or outflow tracks as part of your scan?
  • Are the heart and stomach in correct positions? Both organs should lay on the left side of the fetus.
  • Is the heart rate normal? A normal heart rate range for a fetus is 120-180 beats per minute.
  • Is the heart function normal?
  • Does the muscle work normally?
  • Is everything hooked-up correctly?

Spine

Your baby's spine will be evaluated in the long view and in a cross section. The technician will be looking to make sure that the vertebrae are in alignment and that the skin covers the spine at the back.

Other Major Organs

The scan will also evaluate your baby's stomach, abdominal wall, and diaphragm. The scan will determine if your baby has two kidneys and if his or her bladder is functioning properly. 

{ MORE: Is One Drink Okay During Pregnancy? A New Study Says Yes }

Mom's Anatomy

The technician will look at the positioning of your placenta, specifically looking for placenta previa. The umbilical cord will be checked to determine if it enters the abdomen normally and that it has three vessels. The technician will also look to see if there is enough amniotic fluid surrounding the baby to allow it to move freely at this stage.

This may seem like a lot of scary information, but it is better to be informed and involved in the examination instead of completely unprepared. The anatomy scan really is an exciting examination, where you are able to get a close-up glimpse of your little one moving around. Enjoy the special moment!

What do you think?

What You Should Know About the Anatomy Ultrasound

Mindi is a working mom with three boys ages 4, 2, and an infant (born June 2013). She spent her first 8 years of her career in Speech-Language Pathology at a Children's Hospital. She currently works with adults and children in home health. The real fun for her happens when she is at home with her boys, chasing them around and pretending to be a super hero. She blogs about life as a working mom at Simply Stavish. Her weekly feature, Words in the Sand, teaches parents how to grow their child's s ... More

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33 comments

  1. Profile photo of Jennifer Jennifer says:

    Hey, I had a sonagram at 19 weeks the doctor said my baby was measuring two weeks behind but didnt mention seeing anything esle wrong with my baby the first test I did for chromosome abnormalities came back low risk she ask if I would like to see a genetic consoler, I said no I want to just wait for my follow up ultrasound. Well at the follow up two weeks later I had a different doc and different tech and they said he looked fine that he is small but to them only looks about a week behind and that that is normal, also they said they have no idea why the other doc recommended seeing a genetic consoler. But now I’m freaking out its like who’s word do I believe the first doc or the second? Well now I’m 37 weeks and have never had another sonagram so asked my doc to schedule me one this week I’m so nervous. If theirs any techs on here can you give me some explanation on why two docs and two tech have two different opinions

  2. Profile photo of Shelby Shelby says:

    Also an ultrasound tech here. Just so you know you can ask questions but there are some (including the list above) that are considered diagnostic…so even though we know what is normal or abnormal we can not answer because that would be a liability on us and our facility. Only the reading doctor can give those results. I know I don’t mind talking during an exam and they tech should give at least a brief explanation of what will happen and what we are looking for.
    I am also glad that there is even a little info about what to expect and what the purpose of the anatomy scan really is, too many people aren’t informed as to how important it is. Gender check is part of it but that is a small part of a very large important whole.

  3. Profile photo of Emily Emily says:

    okay I have a question my sister just called me all upset. she got her ultrasound done last week to find out what she is having and to make sure everything is growing okay. They called her today and said they see something on the babys belly that could be a cyst but looks to big? so they made a another ultrasound for this week. What could that mean and should she be worried.

  4. Profile photo of allison allison says:

    We’re so impatient were going to an ultrasound place to find out the gender before the anatomy scan. We can’t wait. That way if they can’t find the gender no biggie we already know. We’re paying these people to find out the gender

  5. Profile photo of Natasha Natasha says:

    I’m an ultrasound tech and came across this article and thought I’d add my two cents. I’m glad someone is informing soon to be moms what to expect. A lot of people come in and have no idea what we are doing and why the exam can take so long. As you can see there’s lots we need to look at. I am one of the talkative techs and like to show you guys what I am seeing, but again don’t be alarmed if we are quiet. A lot of what we need to see if very dependent on baby’s position, and if baby isn’t in a good position we need to concentrate to try and get what we need. Also, we do a lot of different exam types, not just obstetrics and therefore some of us are not quite as comfortable as others, which may be why the tech is less talkative.

    When if comes to gender, unfortunately that is usually the last thing we are concerned about. As you can see, there is a lot to look at. We literally check baby from head to toe, and our concern is the healthy of the baby first and foremost. If we can see gender, great. Also, it depends a lot of where you live. In Canada, there are certain provinces where we are not allowed to tell you gender, or in fact even look as it is not considered medically relevant (unless we see things wrong which could be associated with genetic disorders). In some places, we are allowed to check gender, but not tell you guys, and it needs to come from your doctor. If you really want to know gender, you can usually find an entertainment ultrasound clinic and pay to find out. Where I work, I am lucky that I can tell you guys the gender if I see it, but we are legally not allowed to tell you if anything is wrong, since we are not doctors and not allowed to diagnose. So please don’t be mad at us if we don’t tell you gender or if there is anything wrong-we are just doing our jobs!

    And one other bit of info-for those of you who have not yet had your scans, id recommend waiting until at least 19 weeks. I know it’s exciting and you want that sneak peak of baby, but in that one week baby has grown just a little but more and makes things much easier to see, especially that tiny heart, and makes us more confident that everything is ok 🙂

    Just thought I’d share a little on the detail ultrasound and provide a little insight from the technologist point of view. It can be a fun exam for both you and the technologist, and I know personally watching that little baby’s heart beating never gets old 🙂 congrats to those of you expecting, and hope you all have a great anatomical detail scan.

    • Profile photo of Bailey Bailey says:

      Thanks for adding all of that information! Very much appreciated! I just got back from midwife today and they said that i have a slightly thickened placenta, and also said “significance uncertain”, my midwife says she has never seen them put that so she is going to look into it, but just wondering if you might have an idea? Thanks!

  6. Profile photo of Missy Missy says:

    I just had my 20 week ultrasound and the technician found a cyst on the baby’s brain. How concerned should I be? Is there anything than can be done or is this a matter of waiting?

  7. Profile photo of Alanna Alanna says:

    There are so many things to check up on.

  8. Profile photo of Ashley Ashley says:

    Going for my anatomy ultrasound on Monday and I am very glad I read this. Lots of good information to prepare me for the day! So excited!

  9. Profile photo of Tahkaney Tahkaney says:

    Wow, I wish I knew about this before I went in! My tech said very few words to me, which I found shocking because it was a woman and she knew this was my first pregnancy. I just awkwardly laid on the table. I didn’t even know what to say when she randomly said the gender of my baby. I was consumed by the awkwardness and fell mute.

    • Profile photo of Brittany Brittany says:

      I know what you mean when you say you found it to be shocking that she didn’t say anything to you. That is sad, and I am sorry she left you out of everything, then just blurted out the sex. When I had my 8 week ultrasound, the tech hadn’t even said hello to me yet, and just blurted out “there are two babies in there”….so much for an introduction and a brief explanation of what was going to happen.
      Congrats on your first pregnancy 🙂

  10. Profile photo of gfeld gfeld says:

    They have a gr8 tech in my ob’s office. She is patient, asks you if you’d like to see things on the screen and if you want to know the gender. When I ask her if any hematomas are present she will answer yes or no and then proceed to tell me if it’s something to worry about or not. I love having her as the tech. She is so honest and easy to talk to.

  11. Profile photo of toya toya says:

    When I went for my scan today, my tech was doing my scan and she notices something, she told me right away what it was, I have a cyst on the umbilical cord, which she told me that she would like for me to come in every week to get check. I’m glad I had her do my scan because most tech wouldn’t say anything. especially if you point it out to them. I hope I get her again when I do go back.

  12. Profile photo of ryw86 ryw86 says:

    There’s no harm in asking some of these questions but if the tech sees something wrong or thinks something is wrong they likely aren’t going to tell you! I’m not even sure they’re allowed to, Usually they get a second opinion if they believe something is wrong and then let your OBGYN tell you. When I had my anatomy scan my tech was a bit of a jerk 🙁 She got annoyed with me just because I asked if I was having a boy or girl and then got all huffy again when I asked for a couple of the pictures.

  13. Profile photo of Grace Grace says:

    i always hated/hate having it done

  14. cool, i was always wondering what she (the ultrasound technician) was looking for, but this is really cool

  15. Profile photo of Sarah Sarah says:

    Mine is scheduled for Monday! I’m both excited and terrified by it. My ob keeps talking about all the risks of birth defects because I’m 35. Hopefully we will have a talkative tech and I can have some of the stress of possible birth defects laid to rest. Keep your fingers crossed for me ladies!

    • Profile photo of Andrea Andrea says:

      When i had my son who is now 3 i was 39 and had him at 40. I am again now pregnant and i am 43 and my insight to u is to just relax and try and not worry that u r a high risk pregnancy. Less stress helos both u and the baby a tremendous amount. Stay strong both mentally and emotionally and urbundle of joy will be perfect. Congrats. Andrea M

  16. Profile photo of Whitney Whitney says:

    We had a very informative tech that showed us everything she was looking for. She took nearly 50 pictures because I am diabetic (not just gestational) and wanted to be sure all was developing normally. It was a very enjoyable experience for us. I was also thrilled I could finally tell my husband, I told you it was a boy! Hahaha 🙂

    • So relieved to see another diabetic mother to be! it gives me so much hope that my baby can make it after being told i had a 2% chance of getting pregnant because i also have PCOS, and a 0-1% of carriying past the 2nd trimester, so far im at 16 weeks and looks good so far, i cant wait till my next ultrasound to find out more about how much baby is growing 🙂 me and my husband are rooting for a boy but either sex is a blessing in itself

      • Profile photo of Nan Mcgraw Nan Mcgraw says:

        Merandah, I was told I would never get pregnant also. I am diabetic, have PCOS, high blood pressure and i am 36 yrs old. I am currently 24 weeks pregnant with number 2 . Our first miracle baby will be about 26 months when his little brother is born. Goodluck and Congratulations.

  17. We had a very informative tech, the only down side was she used a little too much pressure, I’m very sensitive, and she just was jamming that thing on my stomach. I don’t think my baby liked it since she kept hiding and moving away from her.

  18. Profile photo of Tiffany Tiffany says:

    The ultrasound tech did not tell us our baby’s sex at our 20 week ultrasound.

  19. Profile photo of janet janet says:

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  20. Profile photo of Phammom Phammom says:

    Had mine a few weeks ago. Very happy that she explained everything as she went threw the ultra sound.

  21. Profile photo of Bree Bree says:

    had mine two weeks ago… my tech explained alot to us 🙂

  22. Profile photo of Layne Layne says:

    I had mine last week, I wish I had seen this before. Thankfully my tech was great and tried to explain what she was looking for.

  23. Profile photo of Tina Tina says:

    This is a great article too bad I read it after my anatomy scan. lol I thought this ultra sound was alot of fun and very informative. The technicians talked me through what they were looking for and at. My baby is nice and healthy!!! It’s crazy how they can tell so much from an ultra sound. I also thought it was pretty neat how they were able to tell what is what. I mean some of the stuff was obvious, but alot of it I wouldn’t have known what it was if she didn’t tell me.

  24. Profile photo of KaelinRae KaelinRae says:

    This is a great article. I will have my 21 week ultra sound on June 11th.

  25. good info. though i wish i had this sooner. last sono was a week ago.

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