Scans in pregnancy
Throughout your pregnancy, you’ll usually be offered at least two scans; the first is a dating scan at around 12 weeks and the second an anomaly scan at 20 weeks to check that your baby is developing healthily. Additional scans may only be advised if your midwife thinks it’s wise to keep a closer eye on developments for a particular reason.
The scans described in this article are performed using ultrasound. This involves your sonographer moving a hand-held device over your belly, which transmits a black and white image to a screen. . For the 12 week scan, you may be asked to prepare by drinking a lot of water, as a full bladder helps to push your uterus forward, enabling the sonographer to see more detail.
If you’re ever unsure what a test is for or have a question about it, your midwife will be able to talk you through the details. Our team of experienced mums and midwives has plenty of advice to offer too. Call them on 0800 996 1000 or start a Live Chat on our instant online messaging service.
Early pregnancy scan
Although this is not routine, you may be offered an early scan between 6 and 10 weeks if you have a history of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, or if you’re experiencing pain or bleeding. The scan will check that the pregnancy is viable and that it’s growing in the right place. It will also measure your baby, check their heartbeat and tell you how far along you are . A regular ultrasound is unlikely to offer a clear enough picture at this stage, so it may be performed using a small probe in your vagina. It’s also worth noting that if the scan is performed before 9 weeks, it won’t be able to give you an accurate due date. .
Most NHS hospitals offer a routine scan at around 12 weeks , when you’ll get the first glimpse of your baby. During the 10 minute scan, your sonographer will take measurements to determine your baby’s due date and age. They will check if there is more than one baby, if there are any obvious abnormalities, the condition of your ovaries and your baby’s heartbeat. All women are given the option to have a Down's Syndrome screening at their dating scan. This option will involve a blood test, a Nuchal Translucency Scan and will assess the risk of your baby having Down's Syndrome.
It can be an exciting and sometimes emotional experience as your baby appears before you. If your hospital offers such a service, you may be able to buy a printout of the image of your baby for a small fee.
It’s up to you whether you choose to have your first scan with the NHS, or with a private healthcare provider. If you have a private scan early on in your pregnancy you will still need a dating scan, which will normally take place at the hospital you have chosen.
Nuchal translucency (NT) scan
A Nuchal fold scan assesses your baby’s risk of having Down’s Syndrome.
During the scan, a measurement is taken of an area at the back of your baby’s neck known as the ‘nuchal area’. The test also takes into consideration age, weight, height, BMI and blood tests , as well as whether you have smoked during pregnancy. The result will be a probability rather than a definitive answer, but if it comes out as a high risk you may be offered further diagnostic tests such as an amniocentesis test, which will give you a definite answer.
This test may lead to you having to make difficult choices. Your midwife will be able to talk through the reliability of the test and the implications of potential results.
20 week scan
Offered routinely on the NHS to everyone, your 20 week scan allows for a thorough check of your baby’s development. Your sonographer will measure your baby’s head, abdomen and thigh bone to make sure they are growing and developing well.
Also referred to as the anomaly scan, it lasts around 15-20 minutes. By this stage in your pregnancy you should be able to see your baby’s limbs and movements. This can be an exciting moment and one you can treasure, especially if you’re offered a printout of the scan by your hospital.
They will be checking:
- For cleft palate or any obvious brain problems.
- The alignment and development of your baby’s spine
- The size and shape of your baby’s heart
- Structural defects within your baby’s heart
- Your baby’s hands and feet
- Their stomach, kidneys and bladder
- The position of the placenta, the umbilical cord and your amniotic fluid levels
If anything revealed on your 20 week scan needs looking at a little more closely, you’ll be offered another scan and will be referred to a specialist.
Growth scans are ultrasound tests that are advised if there is any concern about your baby’s growth or development. If your midwife feels you require a growth scan they will be able to explain why you are being offered one.
The various scans you’re offered during pregnancy can bring up lots of questions and concerns. Our team of experienced mums, pregnancy advisors and midwives are available to talk you through them. Give them a call on 0800 996 1000 or ask them online through Live Chat our confidential instant messaging service.