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Mayo Clinic Health Library

Slide show: Fetal ultrasound

Updated: 01-26-2019

See your developing baby

Pregnant woman having a fetal ultrasound

A fetal ultrasound can give you an early glimpse of your baby, but it isn't done for entertainment. A fetal ultrasound can help your health care provider evaluate your baby's growth and development and determine how your pregnancy is progressing. In some cases, fetal ultrasound is used to evaluate possible problems or help confirm a diagnosis.

Ultrasound should be requested only by a doctor or licensed health care provider for medical reasons.

Wonder what to expect? Here's a look at real fetal ultrasound images, as well as tips for understanding the images.

Baby at 11 weeks

Abdominal ultrasound showing baby's profile at 11 weeks

During a fetal ultrasound, your health care provider places a wand-like transducer into your vagina or runs the transducer over your abdomen. Sound waves are translated into a pattern of light and dark areas — creating an image of your baby on a monitor.

In this slide, you see a baby's profile at 11 weeks of pregnancy, or nine weeks after conception. A baby's head makes up about half of his or her length at this stage.

Baby's heart

Fetal ultrasound showing the chambers of baby's heart

This slide offers a four-chamber view of a baby's heart as well as the heart valves. This image is usually taken during a standard ultrasound, between weeks 18 and 20 of pregnancy. A baby's cardiovascular system begins developing five weeks into pregnancy, or three weeks after conception. The heart starts to beat shortly afterward.

Baby's brain

Fetal ultrasound showing the base of baby's brain

Here you see the base of a baby's brain, known as the cerebellum. The shape of the cerebellum — the part of the brain that controls muscle coordination and balance — is important in the detection of neural tube defects. This image is usually taken during a standard ultrasound.

The neural tube forms in the first few weeks of pregnancy. The top of this tube becomes the baby's brain, and the rest becomes the spinal cord. Problems in neural tube development can lead to conditions such as spina bifida, in which a portion of the neural tube fails to develop or close properly. This causes defects in the spinal cord and the bones of the spine.

Baby's head

Ultrasound showing a fetus' head

This is a view of a baby's head. The thick white lines that form a circle near the top of the image indicate the baby's skull. The white line in the middle of the circle is the midline structure that separates the baby's brain into a right and left half.

Measurements of your baby's head, along with other measurements, can help your health care provider determine your baby's age.

Baby's hand

Fetal ultrasound showing baby's hand

Here you see a baby's open hand and fingers — another reassuring sign of normal growth and development.

Baby's eyes

Fetal ultrasound showing the lens of baby's eye

Any guesses about this image? It's the lens of a baby's eye.

Twenty-three weeks into pregnancy, or 21 weeks after conception, a baby begins to have rapid eye movements. A baby's eyelids begin to open at 28 weeks into pregnancy, or 26 weeks after conception.

Baby's neck

Fetal ultrasound slide showing baby's cervical spine

This image is a cross section of a baby's cervical spine. The cervical spine — which begins at the base of the skull — protects the spinal cord and supports the skull.

Baby's spine

Fetal ultrasound showing baby's spine

This image might be easier to decipher than the others. Look carefully, and you can see the curve of a baby's spine.

Baby's femur

Fetal ultrasound slide showing the length of baby's femur

Now you're looking at a baby's femur. This thigh bone is the largest and strongest bone in the body, extending from the hip to the knee.

Baby's lower legs

Fetal ultrasound showing baby's lower legs

On this split screen, check out the lower legs. The baby's knee is on the right side of each image, and the ankle is on the left. You can also see the shinbone (tibia) and the small bone on the outside of the ankle (fibula).

Site of baby's umbilical cord

Fetal ultrasound slide showing site of baby's umbilical cord

This arrow points to the site where the umbilical cord is attached to the baby's belly.

By examining this area, your health care provider can identify or rule out conditions such as the protrusion of abdominal contents through an opening at the navel (omphalocele) and a break or split in the tissue that forms the abdominal wall (gastroschisis).

Baby's profile

Fetal ultrasound showing baby's profile

For parents, this might be the most touching of all ultrasound images — baby's profile.

3-D fetal ultrasound

3-D fetal ultrasound slide showing baby's face

A 3D fetal ultrasound can provide images of a baby with photo-quality details. This type of ultrasound is sometimes used to help health care providers to detect facial abnormalities or neural tube defects.

3D ultrasounds are also available commercially — but the use of fetal ultrasound solely to create keepsakes isn't recommended.

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