What happens during a baby scan?
Everything you need to know about scans including when they happen and what an antenatal scan is used for
At a glance
Your hospital will usually offer two ultrasound scans to check your baby’s development
The first is the 8-14 week scan will give you an accurate due date
The Nuchal Translucency scan is part of the combined screening test
The second scan – also called the 18-21 week anomaly scan – checks that your baby is growing normally
There’s nothing more exciting than seeing your baby’s first scan. Scans are completely safe for you and your baby but all the excitement about this great milestone can leave you wanting to know more.
Here’s what to expect, with some of your most common questions answered.
When will I have my first pregnancy scan and what will happen in it?
Most hospitals offer all mums-to-be two scans. The first baby scan is usually at 8-14 weeks and it’s called a dating scan, Nuchal scan or sometimes simply the 12 week scan. You can also have a scan done before this privately for a fee.
At your first scan, you and your partner may be feeling excited or nervous as this is a big moment. Talk to the sonographer who will be scanning you and explain any concerns. They will put gel on your bump and then move a small hand-held device over it. This sends an image of your baby and their position to the screen.
Your first scan can include a nuchal translucency (NT) scan, which is part of a combined test for Down’s syndrome. Your midwife or sonographer will explain everything to you so ask questions.
Your second scan will be around the 18-21 week mark. It’s called an anomaly scan and it checks that your baby and their organs are growing normally. The sonographer will also check your placenta and measure the amniotic fluid around your baby. You may also be offered the chance to check the sex of your baby, so make sure you tell the sonographer before you begin if you don’t want to know.
Some women will be offered more scans during their pregnancy. If you’d like more, you can get these done privately. Some private clinics also offer 3D or 4D scans, which offer great 3D pictures and videos of your baby.
Is ultrasound safe during early pregnancy?
Yes, ultrasounds are perfectly safe for you and your baby. The handheld probe gives off high-frequency sound waves that bounce off different parts of the body, creating "echoes" that are picked up by the probe. These are turned into the image that is displayed on the monitor. There is no evidence to suggest any risks at any stage of pregnancy.
The equipment generates a very small amount of heat, which is absorbed by your body, but the sonographer will monitor this carefully so there is no need to worry. If you still feel unsure about having an ultrasound scan, have a chat with your midwife or GP.
What can an antenatal scan tell me about my baby?
- You can check up on your baby’s growth
- How many weeks pregnant you are and your due date
- Whether you're having more than one baby
- It can detect physical abnormalities
It can also reveal the position of your baby and the placenta. When the placenta is low down in your uterus late in your pregnancy, a caesarean section may be advised
- The second scan can also reveal the sex of your baby