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How a sonogram can help your baby

What expectant mother doesn’t wonder what her baby will look like? Today, with the use of sound waves that bounce off tissues like echoes, doctors can show moms a peek of what’s to come.

But besides providing a look at the future, these pictures, called sonograms, also provide information that ensures a safe pregnancy.

An ultrasound performed when you’re as little as five weeks pregnant may be used to rule out ectopic pregnancy, diagnose multiple pregnancy or rule out pregnancy if there’s been a suspected false-positive pregnancy test.

In an established pregnancy, ultrasound can help determine a baby’s size and confirm the due date. As the due date nears, it reveals the baby’s position and helps the doctor plan for a safe delivery.

The test also provides important information about the placenta. It may reveal whether the placenta has prematurely separated from the wall of the uterus (abruptio placentae) or whether it’s positioned so low that it partially or completely blocks the mouth of the uterus (placenta previa). A C-section may be planned for a woman with either condition.

Certain birth defects can also be detected by ultrasound. These include heart and kidney defects and neural-tube defects such as spina bifida.

The baby’s movement, breathing and heart rate and the amount of amniotic fluid are also evaluated by ultrasound. Taken together, this information can reveal how well a baby is doing in the uterus. If the baby’s in trouble, a C-section may be planned.

An ultrasound isn’t necessary in every pregnancy, but in many cases it provides information that is vital to your baby’s health. If your doctor suggests you have the test, first check with your healthcare plan—some plans authorize one ultrasound and a second only if medically needed, but some will not cover even one. Then relax—it won’t hurt—and clear a spot on the fridge for your baby’s first snapshot.