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Ultrasound Examinations and Preparations

  • Ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves and their echoes to make cross-sectional images of the inside of your child's body.

    • Ultrasound machines produce no radiation.
    • Ultrasound exams are painless.

    How Boston Children's Hospital approaches ultrasound

    The Department of Radiology's Ultrasound program is designed, equipped and staffed to obtain high-quality ultrasound images of infants and children of any size who have a variety of medical and surgical conditions. Our program features:

    • Highly trained pediatric radiologists with expertise in performing and interpreting ultrasound studies in infants and children of all ages
    • Pediatric sonographers with years of experience
    • In conjunction with the Advanced Fetal Care Center at Boston Children's, radiologists and technologists who care for infants and children on a daily basis, also perform fetal ultrasound examinations.

    Contact Us

    Department of Radiology

  • When is ultrasonography needed?

    Ultrasound can be performed on many parts of the body. Some include:


    An abdominal ultrasound is an ultrasound of the internal organs, including the liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, kidneys and bladder. We perform an abdominal ultrasound when a child has:


    A head ultrasound is an ultrasound of the brain. It looks at the brain tissues and ventricles. It is usually performed on infants who still have a soft spot (called the fontanelle) in their skulls. We perform a head ultrasound when:


    Hip ultrasound is used to take pictures of the hips of babies to look for a dislocated or underdeveloped hip. Both hips will be examined. It can be performed in babies from the newborn period to about 6-8 months of age. We perform a hip ultrasound when:

    • an abnormality is found through physical examination of a baby's hip
    • a family has history of hip dysplasia
    • a baby is breech


    A kidney ultrasound takes pictures of both kidneys and the urinary bladder. It does not directly test the function of the kidneys.  Some reasons we perform a kidney ultrasound are:


    A pelvic ultrasound is used to take pictures of the pelvic organs, and is usually done to look at the uterus and ovaries in a girl. It will also be used to look at the bladder. Pelvic ultrasound can also be done in boys. A pelvic ultrasound is done to look for a cause of pelvic pain or search for a possible mass.


    A spine ultrasound is used to take pictures of the spinal cord and surrounding structures in a baby who is usually less than 4 months old. A spine ultrasound is done to look for an abnormality of the spinal cord.

    What kind of equipment do we use to perform ultrasounds?

    • Ultrasound machines are about the size of a grocery cart.
    • A TV screen for viewing the images is attached to the machine.
    • Ultrasound machines are portable and require no special support or shielding other than a good source of electricity.
    • The room used for scanning has dim lighting so that the pictures can be seen more clearly.
  • How should I prepare my child for an ultrasound?

    Most ultrasound studies require no special preparation. However, some exams do require special preparation, such as an empty stomach or full bladder. The examinations that require preparation are listed below. If these guidelines are not followed, your child's examination may be delayed:

    Abdominal ultrasound

    Your child's age Preparation

    Less than 1 year old

    No feedings for two hours prior to the exam

    1-4 years old

    Nothing to eat or drink for four hours prior to the exam

    Over 5 years old

    Nothing to eat or drink for six hours prior to the exam (the last meal should be a low fat meal)

    Pelvic Ultrasound

    Your child's age Preparation

    Less than 3 Years old

    Encourage fluids

    3-6 years old

    8 to 16 oz of water finished 30 minutes prior to exam time

    7-11 years old

    24 oz of water finished 45 minutes prior to exam time

    Over 12 years old

    32 oz of water finished 45 minutes prior to exam time

    Abdomen and pelvic ultrasound

    Follow the same instructions as for an abdominal and pelvic ultrasound above.  We ask that you drink water only.

    Renal ultrasound

    Generally, no preparation is required. However, if symptoms include hematuria (blood in the urine), we will want to scan your child with a full bladder. Fluids should be encouraged in this situation and your child should not empty his bladder prior to his exam. Follow pelvic ultrasound preparation above.  If symptoms include Hypertension, this examination requires an empty stomach.  Please follow the abdominal preparation.

    What should I expect when I bring my child to the hospital for an ultrasound?

    When you arrive, please go to the Ultrasound check-in desk on the second floor of the main hospital or the Radiology check-in desk at our Waltham, Lexington, Peabody, or South Weymouth facilities. An ambulatory service representative will check in your child and verify his registration information.

    What happens during the ultrasound?

    • You and your child will be escorted into one of our scanning rooms.
    • You are encouraged to stay with your child the entire time.
    • Most patients will not be asked to remove their clothing.
    • The sonographer will position your child on the examination table, move his clothing aside and place some warm gel on the area of his body being imaged.
    • The sonographer will place a transducer, which is shaped a bit like a microphone, on the area of your child's body that is being examined and move it around in order to take the pictures.
    • Your child will be encouraged to lie as still as possible.
    • Once the pictures are made, the sonographer will review them with one of our pediatric radiologists. In some cases, the radiologist will scan your child as well.

    Depending on the examination, scanning takes between 20 and 40 minutes.

    Will my child feel anything during the ultrasound?

    Ultrasound is painless.

    What happens after the ultrasound?

    The radiologist reviews your child's images and creates a written report of the findings and diagnosis.

    How do I learn the results of the ultrasound?

    The radiologist will provide a report to the doctor who ordered your child's ultrasound.

The future of pediatrics will be forged by thinking differently, breaking paradigms and joining together in a shared vision of tackling the toughest challenges before us.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO