Two adults look at an ultrasound images together.
Is it a girl or boy, and what about my baby’s health? An ultrasound shows us a whole lot more than just gender. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

You’re pregnant! Congratulations! Now you’re probably wondering when you can learn whether you’re having a boy or girl.

There are baby clothes and accessories to purchase, names to pick out, and walls to paint, after all.

We understand.

But it’s also important to know the reason behind the ultrasound goes far beyond determining the gender of your baby.

Women today are typically having a couple of ultrasounds. The first ultrasound is at one of the early appointments and the second is scheduled for 18-20 weeks into the pregnancy.

What are they both for?

The early ultrasound helps the provider pinpoint a more accurate due date. In the first trimester babies grow at such a rapid rate that it’s easier to see at what gestation baby is.

The other routine ultrasound is done around 18-20 weeks of the pregnancy. This ultrasound is called the fetal anatomy scan.

This scan is done to check the physical parts of the baby. Your doctor or nurse are looking for things such as two hemispheres of the brain, four chambers of the heart, two kidneys, and so forth.

“The ultrasound examination is being performed to assess your unborn child’s health as well as yours,” noted Brian McClain, CNMT, RSO, the director of clinical diagnostic services at Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial. “Ultrasound is a diagnostic tool and is not solely to determine the gender of the baby.”

The technician can try to see the baby’s sex, but that’s not the goal of this ultrasound.

I’ve had mamas ask if they can have another ultrasound if the sex of the baby can’t be determined. Typically you will not have another ultrasound unless there is medical reason.

I’ve heard of women wanting more pictures than they received at the “regular” ultrasound and going for an additional one elsewhere (not through their doctor or midwife). That is not recommended.

“Although there is a lack of evidence of any harm due to ultrasound imaging and heartbeat monitors, prudent use of these devices by trained health care providers is important,” stated Shahram Vaezy, Ph.D., an FDA biomedical engineer. “Ultrasound can heat tissues slightly, and in some cases, it can also produce very small bubbles (cavitation) in some tissues.”