Suppose you are newly pregnant or are hoping to become pregnant. In that case, you may be asking yourself and looking up, “how soon can you see a baby on ultrasound,” “how early can ultrasound detect a baby,” or “when can ultrasound detect pregnancy?” At University Park OBGYN, we are experts providing complete pregnancy care and want to share some valuable tips about early ultrasound appointments and what you can expect. 

What Is an Ultrasound?

An ultrasound is a special kind of technology that creates images through sound waves. During pregnancy, an ultrasound wand, called a transducer, is either placed into the vagina until it reaches the cervix, known as transvaginal ultrasound or externally, known as an abdominal ultrasound. The ultrasound releases sound waves that bounce off of the fetus’s bones, fluids, and tissues, and, in turn, the transducer, or wand, picks up these sounds, thus creating the image you see. This brings us to the fundamental question: how early can you see a baby on an ultrasound?

How Early Can Ultrasound Detect a Baby?

How early can ultrasound detect a baby, you may ask. In an early pregnancy ultrasound, the device is used to show the fetus’ position in your uterus as well as verify the fetal heartbeat. Later on, in pregnancy, the device is used to monitor placenta location, growth, and the overall development and health of your baby. Finally, nearing the final stages of pregnancy, it can check the positioning of your baby before delivery and confirm the cervix’s length. During pregnancy, all women should receive ultrasounds. The timing of your first ultrasound will vary based on numerous conditions. 

How Early Can You See a Baby on an Ultrasound?

Excited Black Woman Holding Ultrasound Image and Hugging Her Man

When can ultrasound detect pregnancy?” A common question to have during this exciting time! A transvaginal ultrasound may detect the gestational sac as early as five weeks gestational age in a viable pregnancy. The gestational sac is typically the first sign of pregnancy detectable on an ultrasound, and the yolk sac may be visible in as early as five and a half weeks gestation. The goal of an ultrasound performed early in pregnancy is to not only decipher an intrauterine pregnancy but rule out complications as well. 

How early you can see a baby on an ultrasound depends on the type of ultrasound you receive. A transvaginal ultrasound, not to be confused with an abdominal ultrasound, is most effective when detecting early pregnancy. You may be wondering how early you can see a baby on an ultrasound, but it is important to keep something in mind. The early ultrasound experience may not live up to what you hope for in a first ultrasound appointment, as not much is visible at this time because you will be having a transvaginal ultrasound rather than the abdominal ultrasound.  

Why Has My Doctor Ordered an Early Ultrasound?

Do not worry if your doctor has ordered an early ultrasound scan, as there are many reasons it may be necessary that are not due to bad news. One of the most common reasons doctors order an early ultrasound scan before twelve weeks is to date your pregnancy accurately! If your pregnancy symptoms do not align with your last menstrual period, or if there is confusion about the gestation age of your baby, an early ultrasound will clarify this for your doctor, and they will be able to determine how far along your pregnancy is. 

Another reason for an early ultrasound is if you have had fertility treatments because your doctor will most likely want to confirm right away whether you are carrying twins or multiples. Additionally, a doctor can use an ultrasound device to check your reproductive anatomy and rule out any potential problems with the fallopian tubes, ovaries, cervix, or uterus that may cause complications during pregnancy. Try to stay positive, and remember that while an early ultrasound can be a cause for concern, it can also be utilized to simply assure a safe and healthy pregnancy. 

Other Reasons a Gestational Sac May Not Be Detected on an Ultrasound

How early ultrasound can detect a baby depends on whether it has been five weeks since your last menstrual period or not and whether your hCG levels have been measured. If you ovulated late, you may be getting your ultrasound too early, and your doctor will need to reorder another to follow up within a week. However, there are other reasons your doctor may not detect a gestational sac on an ultrasound. 

Ectopic Pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy is when the fertilized egg does not properly implant in the wall of the uterus, meaning it cannot develop properly. The fertilized egg sits in the fallopian tube in an ectopic pregnancy, which can cause significant damage to the tube, such as bursting or rupturing. 

Occasionally, ectopic pregnancy can occur in the abdomen, cervix, or ovary. Part of why it is crucial to rule out an ectopic pregnancy is because if this severe complication is left untreated, it can cause internal bleeding and shock. Some of the first warning signs for this complication include pelvic pain and bleeding. If your gestational sac is not visible and your hCG level is higher than 1500 to 2000, your doctor may diagnose ectopic pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancies are often diagnosed in the ER using ultrasound. The emergency room is a safe and well-equipped place to receive treatment, as the staff is highly trained and knowledgeable. 

Chemical Pregnancy

Chemical pregnancy, also known as an early miscarriage, occurs when the pregnancy stopped developing before the gestational sac becoming large enough to see on the ultrasound device. Symptoms of miscarriage include a heavier than normal period, low hCG levels, excessive menstrual cramping, and lacking common signs of pregnancy such as breast tenderness or soreness, or morning sickness, after a positive pregnancy test. Some health conditions may predispose someone to pregnancy complications, including thyroid disorders, polycystic ovary syndrome, diabetes, blood clotting disorders, and more. Still, it is important to remember that most women go on to have healthy pregnancies down the line after a miscarriage. Support groups and therapy are valuable options to help cope with the loss as well.

Loving Couple Attending Doctor for Pregnancy Ultra Sound Procedu

Heterotopic Pregnancy

In pregnancy, there may be rare cases of an ectopic and intrauterine pregnancy occurring simultaneously. This complication is called a heterotopic pregnancy, meaning one fetus is implanted in the fallopian tubes while the twin fetus is implanted in the uterus. Research shows that the risk of ectopic or heterotopic pregnancy may increase when IVF is utilized. Your doctor will carefully screen you for this complication if you have received fertility treatments. If you have not undergone fertility treatments such as IVF and an intrauterine pregnancy is present, an ectopic pregnancy is not likely.  

A Note From University Park OBGYN

Here at University Park OBGYN, our exceptional and compassionate care team is here to walk through this journey with you, but we encourage reaching out to close friends and family for added support. As exciting as a pregnancy can be, many women may feel anxious before their first ultrasound appointment, and having the support you need present is crucial. 

Many women go into their first appointment wondering first and foremost when can ultrasound detect pregnancy and how soon you can see the baby on an ultrasound. We are here to answer all of those questions you may have about your upcoming ultrasound, from finding the gestational sac to wondering about how early you can see a baby on an ultrasound scan. We look forward to your trust in our obstetric care!