4 things to consider before inviting guests to a baby’s ultrasound

Family audience during ultrasound
It’s becoming more common to invite family and friends to a baby’s ultrasound.

Seeing your baby for the first time is exciting. You want to show him or her off to the world – and sometimes ultrasound pictures just don’t feel like enough.

We frequently see mothers at the 18- to 20-week ultrasound accompanied by not only their partners, but also grandparents-to-be, best friends, and future siblings. It can become quite the social event! Everyone gets to see the baby on the screen, and often their focus is on finding out the gender.

However, you need to remember that a fetal ultrasound is, first and foremost, a medical exam. It’s not that different from other physical exams. We learn a tremendous amount about your baby’s well-being during a second trimester ultrasound, which is typically performed at 18- to 20-weeks of gestation. It’s an opportunity for us to look at the development of the major organs and see if they’re functioning properly.

At these ultrasounds, patients often tell me, “Oh my, I didn’t know we were looking at that much!” You wouldn’t bring a guest to an ultrasound of your gallbladder – but many people don’t think about a fetal ultrasound the same way.

So, before you send out invitations to friends and family to attend your ultrasound, ask yourself these questions:

What if the ultrasound reveals an abnormality?

It’s not unusual to spot something on the ultrasound that requires follow-up. It may turn out to be nothing, but we may not know that at the time. In rare cases, we may have to give parents devastating news.

In these cases, if there is a room full of people there for what was supposed to be a joyous event, I’ll tell the parents I need to talk to them and ask if they would like everyone to stay. If they don’t, I’ll ask everyone to wait in another room. After I’ve talked to the parents, I’ll ask if they feel comfortable explaining the situation to their friends or family, or if they would prefer me to do it.

It’s important for parents to realize we are gathering a lot of vital information about fetal development during the ultrasound. Is the baby’s growth normal? Are the organs developing as they should be? Does the uterus and placenta appear healthy?

Ask yourself if you are willing to share this experience with other people – whether it’s good news, bad news, or just a little uncertainty about what is seen on the ultrasound. Do you want other people to be a part of this medical conversation? If you are a private person, you may not. These are important questions to ask yourself before you invite a room full of people to the ultrasound.

What is the plan for ultrasounds during your pregnancy?

You may want to talk to your physician early on about how many ultrasounds you will have. For instance, my patients frequently have a third trimester ultrasound to check the baby’s growth in addition to the 20-week ultrasound. If the second trimester ultrasound didn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary, a later ultrasound might be better suited for guests. I know this may be tough because most people don’t want to wait that long to see the baby, and parents often want friends and family to be a part of finding out the gender.

Make sure you understand what will happen during and after the ultrasound. In some practices, a technician will perform the ultrasound, and the doctor will talk to you about the findings in the next couple days. In this case, it is less likely you would receive bad news with a room full of friends and family. This isn’t how we do it in our practice, however; you will get immediate feedback about what we see on the ultrasound.

You also may want to check if your physician has a policy on how many people can be in the room and if there are any age restrictions for children. While we don’t place limits on the number of guests, other practices may. Showing up with a group of family or friends only to be told they need to stay in the waiting room certainly places a damper on the visit.

Make sure everyone in your group understands the guidelines regarding photographing or recording the visit – it will vary from practice to practice.

What if we can’t determine the baby’s gender?

For many patients at the 20-week ultrasound, the focus tends to be, “What is the sex of the baby?” Often I’ll see four to six guests lined up along the wall waiting to hear, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!”

Occasionally, we can’t determine the gender with 100 percent confidence. Your body (for instance your weight or the presence of abdominal scars), the baby’s position, and amount of amniotic fluid all can impact our ability to determine the gender. When this happens, everyone tends to walk away disappointed. Make sure everyone – including you and your partner – knows that this is a possibility.

I’ve also seen patients burst into tears of disappointment upon hearing the gender, so think about how you might react and whether you want others to witness it.

How modest are you?

If you’re embarrassed by the thought of others seeing your abdomen, you may want to keep the ultrasound between you, your partner, and your health care provider. There’s really no good way to have others in the room and not have them see your bare belly. Occasionally a vaginal ultrasound may be necessary to clarify something seen abdominally. While most guests would be excused from the room during this part of the exam, it certainly becomes more complicated when you have lots of other people with you.

Ultimately, there is no “wrong” answer for who should attend the fetal ultrasound. I’ve seen mothers come in alone, with just their partner, with a parent or best friend, or with their children. We’ve even used Skype to allow a partner serving in the military overseas or traveling out of town on business to be a part of it.

As long as you are comfortable with all the possibilities, and the people you invite understand that the ultrasound is about much more than determining the gender, feel free to bring your nearest and dearest along.

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