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What are ultrasounds?

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 and exams are painless.

Ultrasound can be performed on many parts of the body.


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 to 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.

Ultrasound | Before an Ultrasound

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

  • less than 1 year old: no feedings for two hours prior to the exam
  • 1 to 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

  • less than 3 years old: encourage fluids
  • 3 to 6 years old: 8 to 16 ounces of water finished 30 minutes prior to exam time
  • 7 to 11 years old: 24 ounces of water finished 45 minutes prior to exam time
  • over 12 years old: 32 ounces of water finished 45 minutes prior to exam time

Renal ultrasound

Generally, no preparation is required. However, if symptoms include hematuria, 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 Weymouth facilities. An ambulatory service representative will check in your child and verify his registration information.

Ultrasound | During the Procedure

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 lay 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.

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.

Ultrasound | Post-ultrasound

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.

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 Maternal 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.

Ultrasound | Programs & Services