Ultrasound: the Most Important Prenatal Test
Who's Looking at You, Baby
Ultimately, the more experienced the technician and doctor, the better chance you have of getting an accurate ultrasound. To help ensure a high-quality one: First, make sure the facility you use is accredited by the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine or the American College of Radiology. Ask your doctor who will be reading the sonogram. "The fact that we have sonographers is helpful," says Dr. Benacerraf. "But they shouldn't be responsible for reading scans. A physician should be around." So if a technician is performing the ultrasound, chances are that a doctor will interpret it later, but make sure by asking first.
If you can't find a private practice that's accredited for ultrasound, consider having your sonogram done at a major medical center or a teaching hospital, if you live near one. The doctors there will probably have more experience, and as a result may be better able to detect birth defects than those with a less practiced eye.
Some experts wonder whether the cost of an ultrasound procedure -- approximately $200 -- makes it worthwhile as a screening test, since they say routine scans don't have much impact on the outcome of a pregnancy. If a baby has a birth defect, there is probably little that can be done to correct the problem until after the delivery.
But others maintain that ultrasound has many benefits. For most women, that first glimpse helps them bond with their baby-to-be. And if a sonogram uncovers something wrong, expectant parents can prepare themselves -- emotionally and medically -- to deal with their baby's condition.
Also, these experts say, the detection rate is pretty good. "In general, major birth defects occur in two to three percent of all pregnancies," says Dr. Kuhlman. "If you can find half of these defects, this test should be offered."