Traditional ultrasound scans are non-invasive. The doctor or ultrasound operator uses an instrument called a transducer on the mother’s abdomen. The transducer emits soundwaves and collects them as they reflect back at different speeds and frequencies. The ultrasound software then translates this data into an image of the inside of the patient’s abdomen. This creates a picture of the fetus growing inside the uterus, and details like the sex, the position, and the heartbeat can be clearly ascertained.
There is an additional form of ultrasound that is more invasive, call Transvaginal Scan, or TVS. During TVS, the transducer is inserted into the patient’s vagina, rather than pressed against the abdomen. You may have heard about this form of ultrasound being required in some states before the pregnancy can be terminated. Its association with the politics surrounding abortion have made the procedure seem distasteful at best, or scary and violating at worst. Leaving the politics aside, TVS can be an important and useful tool as you progress through your pregnancy.
While TVS is more invasive than traditional ultrasound, sometimes it is necessary to be able to determine important information about the pregnancy; especially in the early stages. Traditional ultrasound will only provide readable, useful images after about 10 weeks’ gestational age. Prior to that, the only way to see what is going on with the embryo is with a transvaginal scan.
A scan in the early stages of pregnancy can be very helpful. It can determine the viability of the fetus and how well the embryo has implanted in the uterus. The scan can be used to date the pregnancy, such as if the patient is unsure of the date of conception or their last period, or if the patient has a history of irregular periods. Another reason for an early ultrasound scan would be to check for multiples (twins, triplets, etc.). These pregnancies can be risky all on their own, so it’s good to know if you have multiples as soon as possible.
The truth of the matter is that a transvaginal scan is a medical procedure, just like the traditional ultrasound is a medical procedure. They both allow your doctor to observe the fetus growing inside of you and provide you the best and most up-to-date information, so that you can plan accordingly.
If your doctor recommends an invasive ultrasound and you have concerns, be sure to voice them and have the doctor talk you through exactly why he or she is recommending that particular procedure. If you are still uncomfortable, remember that you are the patient and you get to decide what happens to you, your body, and your baby. If you feel uncomfortable, it is your right to seek a second opinion.
That said, again, the transvaginal scan is an important tool in the prenatal toolbox. Doctors can use it to see things that a traditional ultrasound can’t. If it is very early in the pregnancy and you think there might be as issue, a TVS could be the way to go.