You will be offered at least two ultrasound scans during your pregnancy. If there are any issues and your baby needs more checks you might have more scans. Like all the other tests and procedures, you can choose whether or not to have the scans on offer.
The first routine scan is offered at around weeks 11 to 14 of your pregnancy but in some areas you may have already had your first scan before your booking appointment. The timing of scans can be a bit different depending on where you live and when you first see your doctor or midwife.
Seeing your baby for the first time can feel like an exciting event. You can bring your partner, a friend or a family member along with you to share it.
How do ultrasound scans work?
An ultrasound scan uses sound waves to show your baby on a screen.
During the scan, you lie on an examining table. The scanner (sonographer) will spread a gel over your tummy and then roll a small scanning device around the area where the gel is. This sends pictures of what's going on in your womb to a computer screen.
The pictures on the computer can be printed out so you get your first photos of your baby!
What are the scanners looking for in pregnancy?
At 11 to 14 weeks
The first scan:
- confirms the estimated due date by looking at your baby's size
- can see if you're having more than one baby
- may be used with a nuchal translucency scan to check the risk of the baby having Down's syndrome, Edward's Syndrome and Patau's Syndrome.
At 18 to 21 weeks
The second scan, known as the ‘fetal anomaly scan' shows:
- how your baby is growing
- the health and position of your placenta
- if there are any visible problems with the way your baby’s body is developing.
Boy or girl?
At your second scan, the sonographer may be able to see if your baby is a boy or a girl.
Tell them if you would like to know – and tell them too if you don’t want to find out until the birth.
The point of the scan is to check the health and growth of your baby and some hospitals may have a policy of not looking at gender. And your baby might be lying in a position that doesn’t let the sonographer see the gender.
Can I have extra scans during my pregnancy?
Although there is no evidence that scans are unsafe for your baby (unlike X-rays, which should be avoided in pregnancy), doctors can’t yet be sure that there is no risk at all to your baby. Because of this, it’s not advisable to keep ‘looking’ unless your doctor or midwife needs to know more about your baby’s wellbeing.
You can pay to have 3D scans (three-dimensional still pictures of your baby) or 4D scans (moving 3D images of your baby) but you should be aware that this involves extra unnecessary ultrasound scans.
What if I'm expecting twins or more?
Women expecting twins or triplets will be offered more scans than women having a single baby.
If your first scan shows you are having twins or triplets, the scanner will check to see whether they share a placenta or not. This is because babies who share a placenta can have a higher risk of problems during the pregnancy.
Very rarely, twins or triplets will also be in the same amniotic sac. If this happens, you’ll be looked after by an obstetrician who has lots of experience of this kind of pregnancy.
You will be offered extra scans later in your pregnancy to check how your babies are growing. If your babies share a placenta, you will probably be offered growth scans more often than if they each have their own placenta.
During pregnancy you will be offered some key tests and checks to keep an eye on your and your baby’s health.
It is completely up to you who comes with you to your antenatal appointments.
No, it’s unlikely you will have an internal examination (inside your vagina) until you go into labour unless there is any concern that needs to be investigated.
It depends on which tests you want but most of the tests that check your own health can be started whenever you begin your antenatal care – even if it’s later in pregnancy.
The Department of Health has developed a vaccine for pregnant women to protect their babies against this illness until the babies can be immunised themselves.
1. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2008) ‘Antenatal Care. Appendix D: Antenatal appointments (schedule and content)’, NICE Clinical Guideline 62: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg62/chapter/appendix-d-antenatal-appointments-schedule-and-content [accessed 10 February 2015].
2. NHS Fetal Anomaly Screening Programme (2010) Standards and Guidance, Exeter, NHS Fetal Anomaly Screening Programme: http://www.fetalanomaly.screening.nhs.uk/fetalanomalyresource/images/stories/Downloads/2.6.1/nhs_fasp-all-standards-and-guidelines.pdf [accessed 10 February 2015].
3. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2008) ‘Antenatal Care. Statement 1.10: Fetal growth and well-being’, NICE Clinical Guideline 62: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg62/chapter/1-guidance#fetal-growth-and-wellbeing [accessed 10 February 2015].
4.] National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2011) ‘Multiple pregnancy: The management of twin and triplet pregnancies in the antenatal period’, NICE Clinical Guideline 129: http://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg129 [accessed 10 February 2015] (next review date: June 2016).
ℹLast reviewed on April 1st, 2015. Next review date April 1st, 2018.