What’s an ultrasound scan like?

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Most pregnancy scans described here are carried out using ultrasound. A gel is applied to your tummy and then a small hand-held device called a transducer is moved over your skin, which sends an image of your baby to a screen. You may be asked to have a full bladder for some of your scans. This will help push your uterus forward and create a clearer picture.

Early pregnancy scans
Dating scan and Nuchal Translucency scan
Mid-trimester scan
32 week growth scan

Types of scans

Early pregnancy scans

If you are experiencing pain or bleeding, have had a previous miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy, between six and ten weeks you may find you’ll have an early scan. As your baby will be so tiny at this stage, to get as clear a picture as possible, this pregnancy scan may be carried out using a small probe that goes inside your vagina.

This type of scan is a simple procedure but it’s natural to feel a bit worried about it so speak to your midwife or doctor – they should be able to answer any questions you have. The scan will check the age and size of your baby and will also check for the heartbeat.

Dating and Nuchal Translucency (NT) scan

Offered between 9 and 13 weeks this scan is offered as standard at many (but not all) hospitals on the NHS. It will give you an accurate due date and assesses several important details:

  • The age of your baby.
  • Whether there is more than one baby.
  • Check their heartbeat.
  • Whether there are any obvious abnormalities (NT scan).
  • Whether your ovaries are in a healthy condition.

The scan lasts around 10 minutes during which time images of your baby will be taken. Seeing your baby on the monitor is such an exciting experience and many mums often feel quite emotional too. You’ll be given a printout 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.

All mums are offered a Nuchal Translucency (NT) scan and this is combined with the Dating scan.

Nuchal Translucency (NT) scan

A Nuchal fold scan gives a risk assessment of your baby having Down’s Syndrome or other chromosomal abnormalities. An assessment 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.

If there is a high probability, then you might need to take further tests such as an amniocentesis test to get a definite answer. You and your partner will be able to discuss this fully with your midwife or doctor

20 week scan


The 20 week anomaly pregnancy scan is offered on the NHS and is the one that most mums 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 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 they’ll keep it from you. It takes around 15-20 minutes and most hospitals will let you buy pictures taken from the scan.

This scan is usually offered between 18 and 21 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 obvious brain problems or cleft lip.
  • The 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.
  • The placenta, umbilical cord and amniotic fluid.
  • The measurements of your baby’s head, abdomen and thigh bone are taken to ensure that they are growing equally well.

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

Worried about 20 week scan

Why there’s no need to be worried about your 20 week scan:

  • It’s a routine scan – everyone has one!
  • If you want to, you can find out if your baby is a girl or a boy.
  • It’s the time to celebrate the fact you’re half way through your pregnancy.
  • Measurements will be taken so you can see just how much your baby has already grown.
  • You’ll be able to spot some exciting changes in your baby – they’ll have more distinguishable features and even their own tiny fingerprints!
  • Remember, your 20 week scan is a routine procedure and is done to confirm that everything is ok.

32 week growth scan

The growth scan at 32 weeks is an ultrasound scan that checks your baby is growing and developing healthily. It’s usually only carried out if there is any concern about your baby’s growth.

By the time of your 32 week scan, your baby’s sucking reflex is fully developed, they can focus their eyes, and they will usually be lying with their head pointed down, ready for birth. If they’re not in this position yet though, don’t worry – there’s still plenty of time for them to move!

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