Sometimes modern medicine and medical technology truly amaze me. I think it’s fairly safe to say that one of things that pregnant women really look forward to is the routine ultrasound sometime after the 20th week of pregnancy. This is generally when your doctor checks on the overall health of your baby and if you choose to find out, you can usually find out the baby’s gender at this appointment. While I don’t want to cheapen or lessen what they can tell you at this routine ultrasound appointment I’d like to talk about a type of ultrasound that you hear about less frequently – level 2 ultrasounds (also sometimes known as 3-D ultrasounds).
Level 2 ultrasounds are not routinely scheduled (or covered by insurance for that matter) for every pregnant woman and because of that, I feel like those who do get them often have no idea what to expect. I have often heard of private facilities advertising 3 dimensional ultrasounds but these facilities are not always run by medical professionals and frankly based on personal stories that I have heard from women who have visited these businesses, they often lack training and do not really know what they are looking at. Conversely, a medically requested or ordered level 2 ultrasound is much different and can tell both doctors and expecting parents a surprising amount of information!
What determines the necessity of a level 2 ultrasound? Level 2 ultrasounds are most commonly recommended for women who are: high risk, have predispositions for genetic conditions, or are of “advanced maternal age.” I put the last of those in quotes because these days MANY women have babies over the age of 35 with no complications and I DO NOT personally consider 35 old haha. Anyway, in my case, it was recommended that I have at least one level 2 ultrasound with each of my pregnancies due to a genetic condition that my husband carries. I ended up having 2 with my first son and three with this baby due at the end of the month (eek!).
For each level 2 ultrasound that you have, you can expect the same basic process. First, an ultrasound tech will take a look and meticulously take pictures and measurements of all of your baby’s bones and vital organs. This goes WAY beyond making sure baby has 10 fingers and 10 toes (although they will definitely check for that!) They will look at baby’s heart, brain, liver, stomach, kidneys etc., measure the length of the leg and arm bones, measure the baby’s head, and of course check the baby’s genitalia (so if you don’t want to know baby’s sex make sure you remind the nurse ahead of time.) To some this process may seem excessive – and it takes a fair amount of time- but all of the measurements go into your file and are looked over later by a doctor to make sure that everything is documented. This helps them to track any changes that they may see between ultrasounds and to make sure that nothing gets accidentally overlooked. After the tech is finished, a doctor will come in and do many of the same measurements and look at a few key structures depending on why the ultrasound was ordered. For me, they were focusing on my baby’s facial features and airway development looking for markers of my husband’s genetic condition. Expect the whole process to take at least 30-45 minutes. They may also ask you to change positions on the table to get the baby to move or to get the best possible angle to get a clear image.
With both of my pregnancies, I had my first level 2 at around 17 weeks pregnant. At this point, everything that the doctors are seeing is mostly skeletal. Your baby may look a bit like the t-rex at the science museum but it’s amazing to see how much of your baby is already developed at just 17 weeks! Be prepared though, if/when the doctor turns on the 3D imaging your baby might look like an alien. To be honest I found it a little creepy the first time.
My second ultrasound was roughly a month later with both pregnancies and the doctors requested it as a follow up to see how things had changed. At this point, baby is much more human looking so rest easy, you really aren’t staring in Alien. At this point, the doctor will be able to tell you how big baby is measuring and might even be able to guess how big baby will end up being by his or her birthday. With my current pregnancy, my doctor requested a third level 2 ultrasound and didn’t want to make any guesses until then but it’s amazing what they can see! With this pregnancy, at my second level 2, my husband and I saw our baby sucking his thumb and waving. Yes, I know, he wasn’t really waving at us on purpose but it was fun to think so. At my third level 2 we saw our baby swallowing and practicing his breathing. Most impressive though was with both of my pregnancies when the doctor told us that he could tell that our baby already had hair! How cool is that!?
Ultimately, while a level 2 ultrasound is generally ordered for medical purposes don’t freak out or feel too anxious about it if you can help it. Just because a level 2 is ordered doesn’t mean that there is ANYTHING wrong with your baby. In our case our first son was born perfect and hopefully this baby will be the same. My best advice? Make sure that you pee beforehand and try to be patient if some positions or pressure applied by the tech are uncomfortable. If by chance the doctors DO see anything concerning, knowing this ahead of time gives both you, as a parent, and your team of doctors a chance to weigh your possible treatment options, take steps to prevent any further complications, or even just the chance to process any diagnoses before baby’s arrival. In the end, I felt that having the level 2 ultrasounds were worth it and you get a really cool sneak peek of baby!
Have you had a level 2 ultrasound? Share your experience with me in the comments!