Ultrasound Scans in Pregnancy – What you need to know

When you first discover you are pregnant one of the most common things to think about and look forward to is that first scan. But when does this happen, and what can be seen and are there any risks involved? These are the questions that so many of us ask ourselves and it is completely normal to feel anxious if you have never had one before; but rest assured, scans are straightforward procedures, carried out by experienced ultrasound specialists and will not cause any harm to you or your baby.

How many scans will I be offered in the NHS ?

Through the NHS hospitals in England you will be offered a minimum of two scans. The first scan is often known as a ‘dating scan’ and takes place between 11-14 weeks of pregnancy.   It is performed to measure the baby to determine how many weeks pregnant you are and give an approximate due date for your baby to arrive.  This scan can also include a nuchal translucency (NT) scan which involves a blood test and a measurement of the fluid behind your baby’s neck to determine if there could be a possibility of Downs,  Edwards, or Patau syndrome. The nuchal scan is offered to every pregnant woman but is optional.

The second scan, often known as a ‘the 20 week scan or anomaly scan’ is usually performed at 18-22 weeks and is also used to check for fetal abnormalities. The main purpose of this scan is to rule out structural abnormalities in your baby. 

If your pregnancy requires some extra monitoring, for example you’re expecting twins or considered high risk – the NHS will offer you additional scans to check baby’s growth and development. The number of scans offered will be at your Consultant’s discretion and help to determine your care plan.

If you do not fall into these high risk categories it is natural to still want additional scans for peace of mind and monitoring and there are lots of options for convenient and economical private scans to suit your needs at any point in pregnancy. 


How early can I have a scan?

For early reassurance, especially if you have suffered previous miscarriages,  an early pregnancy scan can give newly expectant mothers peace of mind at the beginning of their pregnancy.

It is recommended that an early pregnancy scan should be undertaken no earlier than  6 weeks from the first date of the last period as this is the earliest point at which the heartbeat can be detected. This scan will be able to check the location of your pregnancy (to rule out an ectopic pregnancy), check the viability of your pregnancy by confirming a heartbeat, calculate the gestation of the pregnancy (in weeks and days) by measuring the baby. It will also determine if it is a single or multiple pregnancy. 

This scan is performed transabdominally (by scanning your tummy) in the first instance but your sonographer may need to do a transvaginal scan (an internal scan) to obtain clearer images. 

The NHS will not offer early pregnancy scans for reassurance.

When can a scan determine my baby’s gender?

Gender scans are a popular choice. For optimum accuracy they can only be performed from 15 weeks gestation so it is  important to bear this in mind when booking one. Sometimes if your baby is in a difficult position (crossing legs etc) it may not be possible for your sonographer to get an accurate image. In this instance you will usually be asked to go for a walk to help move the baby into a different position, and be re-scanned or return another day. 

What other scans are available? 

There are a number of different scans that can be performed to help give reassurance, rule out any problems, give second opinions or simply just to enjoy seeing your baby. A choice that is increasing in popularity for this is a 4D ( 4th dimension ) scan where you can take a real look at your developing baby with 4D images. For the best results  4D scans are recommended between 26-30 weeks so you get the best imagery of your baby.

Can too many scans harm my baby?

To build a picture of your baby in the womb, ultrasound scans use soundwaves, making them different to x-rays and harmless to you and your baby. Scans can be performed regularly throughout your pregnancy so there is no need to worry about having more than the main two offered if necessary. In fact, many women now attend monthly to see their baby’s development.

Pregnancy scans are usually a happy appointment but it is important to be aware that they can also detect some serious health conditions or complications with your pregnancy.  It is  important to prepare yourself for this possibility but remember that your experienced sonographer will have been trained in all outcomes and experiences in the consultation room and will be there to help and support you. 

For more in depth information as well as help and advice for all aspects of scanning for you and your baby Midlands Ultrasound and Medical Services are on hand with a dedicated and friendly team to help assist you further.

Blog Written By Midlands Ultrasound and Medical Services




Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top