What to expect from your scan

How to cope with ultrasound scans

A scan may sound like a simple trip to the doctors, but for many parents it’s all they can think of, and worry about, in the weeks leading up to their appointment. You may be worried about the health of your baby or the sex of your baby – or that there is even anything in there at all! To put your worries to rest, get prepared and read this guide on what you can expect from your scan.

What to expect from your scan

You may have scans at the following stages of pregnancy, but you may be offered more or fewer scans depending on your pregnancy and your location:

- Six to eight weeks

- 10 to 14 weeks

- 20 to 23 weeks

Your first scan is often nicknamed the ‘dating scan’ as the doctors or sonographer (the person trained to use the sonogram i.e. the scanning equipment) will tell you exactly how far along you are and when your baby is due. Lots of parents are especially anxious about their first scan because it is at this stage that you will find out whether your baby has a heartbeat or whether you have an ectopic pregnancy. For your second scan the doctor or sonographer will give you a more accurate due date and they can tell you if you are having more than one child. Some mothers also take a nuchal scan at this point, which reveals the risk of Down’s Syndrome. Your last scan checks the general health and development of your child and the medical team will also check for other abnormalities. It is at this last scan that you can find out the sex of your baby if you want to.

What will happen during the scan?

So, what actually happens in an ultrasound scan? Well, the image of your baby is created from the sonogram, which transmits sound waves through your uterus and these sound waves hit your baby and form the image you will see on the sonographer’s screen. Don’t worry about the sound waves though, the scan is harmless and your baby won’t feel a thing. When you arrive, the doctor or sonographer will ask you to lie down and lift your top up to reveal your stomach. Then a gel will be spread over your tummy and a transducer will be rolled over your stomach to show you what your baby looks like. You can get a two-dimensional, three-dimensional or four-dimensional scan. The four-dimensional scans are usually only available in private hospitals though you can pay for a scan through a specialist company. The scan should last between 10 and 15 minutes. It is worth noting that many mothers are asked to arrive at the scan with a full bladder to make the scan clearer, but check with the facility you are using beforehand.

What can I expect to see?

One of the most exciting parts about having a scan is that you get to see your baby. Be prepared for tears as most parents can’t help but get emotional as they watch their baby. If you go for a scan around the sixth to eighth week of pregnancy your baby is still very small and will typically measure one and a half centimetres. At this stage your baby may have developed the beginnings of their hands and legs as well as their eyes, nose and ears. If you have a scan at 10 to 14 weeks your baby will look a lot different. Measuring between three and seven centimetres depending on the week, your baby should now have all of their vital organs and their nails and hair will have begun to form. By week 12 your baby even has reflexes and by week 14 your baby might even be able to suck their thumb. The baby is still very small though and will be no bigger than a lemon. If you have a scan at 20 to 23 weeks your baby has grown considerably and now will be between 26 and 28 centimetres. You baby will look a lot like a newborn and their features will be stronger. They may have eyebrows, tooth buds and their spine may look straighter on the sonographer’s screen.

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