Usually, your ultrasound is going to be the first time you get to see your baby. That first glimpse of your developing newborn is exciting, but also a little scary. Envisioning who your little one will be is fun but can be nerve-wracking too.
Will they look like their mother or their father? Will they be healthy? What will their personality be like? Will they be smart or funny?
When seeing the cryptic markings on the top and side of the ultrasound it’s easy to assume they are some kind of code for answers to those and other questions.
Parents often obsess over what their abbreviations mean and if they are some sort of foreshadowing to who their baby will become.
What Do the Markings Mean?
As much as we’d like the strange mix of numbers and letters on an ultrasound to be a window into what our baby will be like in the future, more realistically they are codes and abbreviations used internally by ultrasound technicians to identify how the ultrasound was taken and to measure the fetus’ growth.
I can’t really see it
Unfortunately, most traditional ultrasounds do not deliver a very clear picture. Three-dimensional ultrasounds provide the most detailed look at your baby, but routine two-dimensional ultrasounds are usually provided in the early months of pregnancy because they are cheaper and more available for doctors to use.
The images in these ultrasounds are hard to read and most parents struggle to even identify the baby’s various body parts.
Because of this, parents look to codes and markings on the ultrasound to provide more insight into their child’s wellbeing and development.
The Codes and Markings are For Internal Use
While the codes and markings are meant to be read by technicians and doctors, they do provide some vital statistics.
1. Name of the Mother and Date of the Scan
On most ultrasounds, you will see the name of the mother and the date the scan was taken on the top left part of the image.
It might also have the name of the doctor and the technician who conducted the scan.
2. Gestational Age and Estimated Due Date
As your baby grows these dates might be altered but usually the first date is your baby’s gestational age and the date following it is the baby’s estimated due date.
3. The Baby’s measurements
The measurements noted with a “cm” (centimeters) or “mm” (millimeters) are usually fetal measurements. Technicians will measure the size of the fetus at each ultrasound as they grow to look for abnormalities and possible chromosomal markers that indicate Down Syndrome and Trisomy disorders.
Biparietal diameter (BPD) - measurement across the baby’s skull
Femur Length (FL) - measures the length of the upper leg.
Head Circumference (HC) - measures the size of the baby’s head.
Occipitofrontal Diameter (OFD) - measures from the root of the nose to the base of the skull
Abdominal Circumference (AD) - measures the chest area and the the heart, lungs, and stomach.
Humerus Length (HL) - measures the upper arms
Cerebellum (Cereb) - measures the back of the brain near the spine that controls movement.
Cisterna Magma (CM) - measures the space between vault at the back of the skull and the cerebellum
Nuchal Fold (NF) - measures skin at the back of the skull for anomalies such as Down Syndrome and Trisomy 21
Crown to Rump Length (CRL) - measures the length from the baby’s head to their buttocks.
Keeping track of these measurements is very important to doctors watching for issues that might develop as the baby grows. If the baby stays within acceptable parameters, the fetus is healthy. If their measurements are off, it may indicate a larger issue.
4. Technical Settings
The markings on an ultrasound that have a random string of letters and numbers are markings indicating the kind of ultrasound machine that was used and the setting the machine was on when it created the image.
Since ultrasounds use sound waves to make an image, the frequency (hz), heat, type of machine and setting the machine scanned on is important information for trained professionals to know.
If there is an irregularity, these setting markers would rule out mechanical misreadings.
Ask Your Doctor
The best way to understand your ultrasound reading is to go over it with your doctor. As exciting as it is to see your baby for the first time, don’t forget to ask questions. There will be plenty of time to gaze at that ultrasound picture and envision your child. Ask questions when you have the chance.
Usually, a doctor will tell you if something concerns them, but not always, so take control of your pregnancy and ask for clarification of the ultrasound markings.
What Else Can a Traditional Ultrasound Tell you
Sometimes, even in the first ultrasound, you can see the baby’s gender and facial features. With today’s 3D and 4D imagery, a very clear picture of your child is formed, however, even traditional ultrasounds can give you an idea of the shape of the baby’s face and body.
First ultrasounds can also show you the baby’s heartbeat and if there are multiple babies growing in your womb. Sometimes you can even see the baby move.
All of this helps you bond with your child, so even if the ultrasound measurements indicate possible issues, you have a sense of who your baby is and can make more informed decisions about their care.