An ultrasound truly is a wonder of the modern world. In those few moments, expecting parents get to actually see their unborn child; they know that their baby is really there.

Throughout any pregnancy, most women will undergo several ultrasounds in order to check on the development of the fetus. At least one of these appointments will be a morphology ultrasound, which provides even more clarity and detail of the unborn baby. But what exactly is an ultrasound?

An ultrasound machine emits sound waves that bounce back from or echo off of solid surfaces, creating a picture of what is going on inside the womb. The transducer – the part of the machine that looks like a wand – both sends and receives these waves. When they are pressed against the body, it sends out high-frequency waves that humans can’t hear. These waves travel through the body, echoing off each layer and bouncing back to the transducer. Don’t worry, it’s completely safe for both mother and baby.

The point of an ultrasound during pregnancy is to check on the progress of gestation. Doctors use it to check for problems such as placental abruption and any malformations. It also gives mom and dad the unforgettable moment when they get to see their child in detail for the first time. Parents can find out the sex of their baby and often get pictures of their baby doing things like sucking on their little finger or moving around.

What is a morphology ultrasound?

A morphology ultrasound is a variation of the standard test where you can actually see the internal organs of the baby. It is usually done between the 11th and 14th week of gestation or between the 20th and 24th week. During these periods, the ultrasound is able to pick up far greater detail in the growing fetus, and the doctor can check if there are any problems in the development of the baby.

Organs such as the stomach, lungs, heart, bladder and kidneys can be seen on a morphology ultrasound. Additionally, this scan allows doctors to do complete measurements of the veins and arteries in the baby’s brain and heart.

The doctor will also look at the bones of the growing baby to ensure that they are developing in the correct way according to what stage you are at in your pregnancy. They look at the baby’s spine, the cervix, femurs and the humerus.

Here is the morphology ultrasound of a baby girl at 21 weeks of gestation:

Morphology ultrasound slideshow

As part of your morphology scan, your doctor will likely use a Doppler ultrasound in order to check the intensity of the blood flow from the placenta to the baby. This is to ensure that the baby is receiving enough blood through the heart and is able to pump it through its body.

The doctor will also use this in-depth scan to pin point the exact location of the placenta and what condition it is in. This way, they can diagnose whether or not you have a condition called placenta previa, which is when the placenta lies across the opening of the uterus. If this is the case, there is no serious risk to your baby if it is monitored correctly. However, you will not be able to give birth naturally. If you don’t have this condition, the doctor will check to see if the placenta is lying anterior or posterior within the womb.

When should you get a morphology ultrasound?

Most doctors ask for a morphology ultrasound when you reach between 20 and 24 weeks in the gestation period. During this time, it’s possible to detect an array of problems in the growing fetus.

The ultrasound is quite expensive usually, but it is worth it for many expecting parents to get peace of mind that there baby is healthy. You should be prepared to lie still on your back for between 20 to 50 minutes in order to complete the full scan. For some, this position can be uncomfortable and bring on shortness of breath from the compression of your abdomen. If you feel any discomfort, speak up so that the doctor can take a break in the scanning process.

During the ultrasound, the doctor will note any potential problems and order further testing to verify what the scan picked up. They will check the heart, head and kidneys for any issues in development.
If the scan picks up a possibility of Down syndrome, your doctor will do a nuchal translucency test. This is when the scanner measures an area on the back of the baby’s neck to check for abnormalities. If this test comes up positive, the doctor will then order further blood work in order to confirm a diagnosis.

What can you see on a morphology ultrasound?

As we’ve already mentioned, you can view far greater detail about the development of your baby with this particular scan. The doctor is able to measure the structure, shape and size of your baby’s head and other bones that are now visible. They will also check the formation of the spine to ensure that it is well aligned and positioned correctly.

The baby’s face is also clearer on a morphology ultrasound, which allows your doctor to check its features. They will be able to look for abnormalities such as a cleft lip or palate. However, the latter is far more difficult to see and diagnose as it is inside the mouth and isn’t always visible.

After looking at structural features, the doctor will move onto looking at your baby’s organs. The heart is carefully observed to make sure that the valves all open and close properly during each beat. Through the Doppler scan, the doctor can also examine the main arteries and veins flowing through the baby’s body. These appear on the screen in blue and red, standing out from the rest of the image. The kidney is also observed to ensure that the urine is following the correct course through to the bladder.

Next, the doctor moves onto examining the womb around the baby to ensure that all is well there. They will look at the position of the placenta, the umbilical cord and the connecting blood vessels. This last one is also checked using the Doppler ultrasound. Additionally, the doctor will measure the amniotic fluid to make sure that there is the right amount needed for the baby to continue its healthy development. Your uterine arteries will also be checked for high blood pressure.

The doctor is also able to estimate the weight and size of your baby. This information will help them to determine what size the baby will be when it’s born. This will only be an average based on the scan and compared to other pregnancies, but it will assist the doctor in preparing for the birth of your child.

Another great bonus of this particular scan is that you can get wonderful images captured of your baby’s face for the first time. The detail of this scan provides 3D and 4D images that the doctor can then photograph and print for you to take home.

Readers’ questions:

When is the right time to go for a morphology ultrasound?

Most doctors will recommend that you go between the 20th and 24th week of your pregnancy. This is the ideal phase in which to identify possible problems or malformations in the fetus, and to get a clear view of how it is developing.

What is the difference between a normal and a morphology ultrasound?

The difference is the quality and clarity of the image that the doctor is able to get. They will be able to see a more complete view of your baby’s development through a morphology ultrasound that just isn’t available in the standard scan.