How to Cope With Abnormal Ultrasound Results

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If you're like most expectant mothers, you could not wait for your initial ultrasound visit. Not only was it going to confirm your pregnancy, but you also planned to find out your baby's gender if possible. But, once in the exam room, you were faced with some unexpected news—the initial ultrasound showed some potential abnormalities that the doctor wanted to investigate further.

Most likely you were shocked and in disbelief, the anxiety and stress washing over you in waves. And, even though the doctor likely provided you with some initial predictions on how likely it was that your baby did indeed have something wrong with it, all you could think about was what this would mean to your family. You may have wondered, "How am I going to cope if the additional ultrasounds and tests showed something was truly wrong?"

Understanding Ultrasounds

Before you can adequately deal with the thought that something might be wrong with your developing baby, it helps to have an understanding of what the various forms of ultrasounds do and why they are used.

Generally speaking, ultrasounds are powerful imaging tools, that do not require radiation and instead use high-frequency sound waves to allow the very clear visualization of internal organs, such as the uterus, and to see a developing fetus / placenta.

Although ultrasounds may be performed at any time during pregnancy, sometimes they are used early in pregnancy when a problem is suspected.

For instance, an ultrasound may be used during the first trimester to estimate gestational age, screen for genetic disorders, count the number of fetuses, check the fetus's heart rate, and look for an ectopic pregnancy. Ultrasounds also may be used in combination with other tests like an amniocentesis to further validate a diagnosis.

In the second trimester, ultrasounds might be used by a doctor to check for birth defects, confirm multiples pregnancy, verify growth, evaluate the fetus's well-being, and check amniotic fluid levels.

During the third trimester, a doctor often uses an ultrasound to identify the location of the placenta, observe the fetal presentation, observe fetal movements, and identify pelvic abnormalities.

Overall, there are basically seven different types of ultrasound exams. Here is an overview of the most common types of ultrasounds used.

Standard Ultrasound

This type of ultrasound is the traditional exam that most pregnant women are familiar with. During the exam, a transducer is rolled over the abdomen to generate 2-D images of the developing fetus.

Transvaginal Scan

Specifically-designed probes are used inside the vagina to generate sonogram images. Transvaginal ultrasounds are most often used during the early stages of pregnancy.

Advanced Ultrasound

While this exam is similar to a standard ultrasound, it uses more sophisticated equipment to examine a suspected problem.

3-D Ultrasound

This ultrasound uses special probes and software to create 3-D images of the developing fetus.

4-D or Dynamic 3-D Ultrasound

This ultrasound uses specially-designed scanners to primarily view the face and the movements of the baby.

Fetal Echocardiography

This exam uses ultrasound waves to review the baby's heart anatomy and function. Typically, this ultrasound is used when congenital heart defects are suspected.

Doppler Ultrasound

This exam measures the changes in the frequency of ultrasound waves as they bounce off of moving objects like the baby's blood cells.

Preparing for Your Follow-Up

Although there is nothing you need to do to physically prepare for your upcoming ultrasound, you do need to prepare yourself mentally. Based on your personal situation and the information your doctor provided, the additional tests may just be a precaution.

It's important to not get overly stressed at this point. Many times, doctors will send women for ultrasounds merely as a precaution. And in the end, there is nothing wrong with the baby, even though a blood test or initial ultrasound suggested there might be a risk.

For this reason, it is extremely important that you not allow yourself to dwell on the what-ifs and instead focus on taking care of yourself and your developing baby. Be sure you eat right, drink plenty of water, take your prenatal vitamins, and get plenty of sleep. You are not doing yourself or your baby any favors if you don't continue to take care of yourself.

Coping With Bad News

If you do, in fact, receive news that your growing baby has some abnormalities, the first thing you need to do is take a deep breath. Receiving this type of information is never easy and can feel overwhelming as you try to come to terms with what to expect going forward.

Additionally, it can be difficult to fully pay attention to what the doctor is saying. So, you may want to ask the doctor if you can record the conversation so that you can go come back later and listen again when your emotions are not as muddled. Here are some additional suggestions for coping with abnormal ultrasound results.

Allow Yourself to Grieve

For most moms, the tears come naturally. This is a normal reaction. Now is not the time to try to put on a brave face or try to be strong. Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. Your tears are not a sign of weakness and fear is completely natural. You are experiencing a loss of expectations and are facing some challenges.

Determine What You Need

Every woman is different. So, it is important to think about what you need right now. Do you need to hug your spouse? Take the day, or the week, off work to gather yourself? Or do you need the distraction of work and a busy schedule? Think about what you need in the moment and then make it happen.

Revisit the Information

Most likely, your emotions and initial shock will get in the way of you remembering everything the doctor said. If you recorded the conversation, go back and listen to it. What did you miss? What did you misinterpret? Make sure you have a full picture of what is going on.

In some cases, your doctor will schedule another appointment for you to discuss the abnormalities in more detail and to develop a plan going forward. If your doctor does not offer this, and it is something you want, be sure to request it.

Use Reliable Sources

It's only natural to want to know more about your developing baby's condition. So, if you decide to use the Internet to conduct a little research, be sure you are using reliable sources. There is a lot of unreliable information on the web. As a result, you need to be sure the information you are gathering is accurate.

Write Down Your Questions and Concerns

Make sure you keep a running list of your questions and concerns. This way, when you see your doctor next, you are able to get all of your questions answered and have your concerns addressed.

Consider What to Tell Family and Friends

When parents are faced with the news that something is wrong with their developing baby, they may struggle with what to tell other family members and friends. Prepare ahead of time for how much or how little information you want to share.

Also, be prepared for an outpouring of love and support, lots of questions, and maybe even some inconsiderate comments. Some will know just to say and others will make the most inappropriate statements.

Try to handle each situation with grace and love. But there is nothing wrong with letting someone know when they have overstepped.

Practice Regular Self-Care

What you are going through is a difficult situation and it will change your life in many ways. For this reason, it is really important that you take care of yourself. Aside from eating right and exercising, you need to care for your mental health as well. If you are struggling with grief, anxiety, or even depression it can help to see a counselor or join a support group.

Likewise, be sure that you lean on your family and friends. They want to help you and be there for you but may not know what you need. Let them know. Do not expect to be able to handle the news without some outside help.

Leave Room for Hope

Getting abnormal ultrasound results can feel devastating at the time. But, it is important to leave room for hope as you move forward. Countless moms and dads of special need kids have said that they never realized what a blessing their child's issues could become. Your heart is bigger than you give it credit for. So, regardless of whether your child has some disabilities or not, you will love them just the same.

A Word From Verywell

Learning that there might be something wrong with your baby is never an easy thing to go through. As a result, it is important that you surround yourself with supportive people during this period in your life. Don't be shy about asking for help. The more love and support you have, the easier it will be to come to terms with what you are experiencing.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Ultrasound exams.

  2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Ultrasound in pregnancy.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.