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Scans during pregnancy

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Your first pregnancy scan may make you a little nervous, but it’s an exciting time too as you get to see your baby for the first time!

Scans during pregnancy, what to expect.

Scans can help to confirm that your baby is developing healthily. Most mums-to-be will be offered scans at approximately 8-14 weeks (dating scan), 11-13 weeks (nuchal translucency) and 18-22 weeks (fetal morphology scan). The information below will describe the main scans you can have during your pregnancy, so you’ll always know what to expect.

What’s an ultrasound scan like?

All pregnancy scans described here are carried out using ultrasound. Your sonographer will put a little bit of gel on your tummy and move a small hand-held device called a transducer over your skin, which sends an image of your baby to a screen. You will be asked to have a full bladder for some of your scans as this will help push your uterus upwards and forward and create a clearer picture. The pressure on your full bladder may be uncomfortable, but it is only temporary and will not harm you or baby.

Early pregnancy scans – dating scan

When you first get a positive pregnancy blood test, your doctor may request that you attend a dating scan somewhere between 8 and 14 weeks. This scan is to confirm your dates and is recommended even if you know the date of the first day of your last cycle. This pregnancy scan is usually carried out using a small ultrasound probe that goes inside your vagina, to get as clear a picture as possible, as your baby will be so tiny at this stage and your uterus can hide behind your pelvic bone.

This type of scan is a simple procedure but it’s natural to feel a bit worried about it so speak to your healthcare professional – they should be able to answer any questions you have about it. Remember the scan is to check that your baby is OK, which can make for a far less stressful pregnancy for you!

The dating scan will give you a fairly accurate due date for your baby’s arrival and assesses several important details:

  • The age of your baby
  • The heartbeat – ultrasound can routinely detect a heartbeat in your baby as early as 6-7 weeks
  • Whether there is more than one baby!
  • Whether there are any obvious abnormalities
  • Whether your ovaries are in healthy condition

The scan lasts around 10 minutes and during that time images of your baby will be taken. Seeing your baby on the monitor is such an exciting experience and many parents often feel quite emotional too at this moment. You’ll be given a printout and photos to take home with you (some hospitals charge for this), which you can show to your loved ones so they can share in your excitement too. Just remember, at this early scan your baby looks more like a jelly bean, so you won’t be able to tell who baby looks like more at this stage.

Nuchal translucency (NT) scan

This test is an ultrasound scan and is not considered a risk to your baby. It is usually recommended to be carried out between the 11th and 13th week of your pregnancy. Some mums-to-be may choose to have it done in a private hospital at their own expense. Speak to your healthcare professional about your options.

A nuchal translucency scan gives a risk assessment of your baby having any chromosonal abnormalties such as Downs Syndrome. It is based on the mum-to-be’s age, the thickness of the nuchal fold at the back of your baby’s neck, your baby’s nasal bone and a blood test, in some circumstances. It is important to understand that this scan is a screening test and not diagnostic. It can only give you a statistical probability of either being classified as a “low” or “high” risk group.

In some cases you might need to take further dignostic tests. Your healthcare professional will discuss this with you if it is needed and give you and your partner time to ask any questions.

Fetal morphology scan

The fetal morphology scan, or some may call it the anatomy scan, is one that most mums and dads feel excited about – not only because it’s a real milestone but also because your baby will be looking less like a vague shape and more like a real baby! You could even find out if you’re having a boy or a girl, though, if you’d prefer a surprise at the birth, you can ask them to keep it from you. It takes around 60 minutes and most hospitals and clinics will let you buy pictures taken from the scan.

This scan is usually recommended around 18-20 weeks. It allows the specialist to check your baby from head to toe, so they’ll look at:

  • Your baby’s head, to check for any brain problems or cleft lip/palate
  • Your baby’s spine and abdomen to see that everything is aligned and developed
  • The size and shape of your baby’s heart
  • The stomach, which you should be able to see below the heart. You might be able to see some of the amniotic fluid your baby has swallowed – it will look like a black bubble in their tummy!
  • Your baby’s kidneys and bladder
  • Your baby’s hands and feet – although the specialist probably won’t count the fingers or toes
  • The placenta, umbilical cord and amniotic fluid
  • The measurements of your baby’s head, abdomen and thigh bone to ensure that they are growing equally well

If there are any signs of problems, you’ll most likely speak with a specialist and may be offered another scan.

Growth scans during pregnancy

These ultrasound scans check that your baby is growing and developing healthily. They’re only usually carried out if there is any concern about your baby’s growth. Your healthcare professional will be able to let you know if they are required.

Give us a call on the Careline if you have questions about your scans and what is required. We are here for you throughout your journey.


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