Ultrasound scans

Ultrasound machine used by sonographers during a scan

In addition to early and mid-pregnancy scans, you will be offered further scans if there are specific indications to do so. These additional scans would be for monitoring the growth of your baby or to check the position of the placenta.

What kind of scan will I be offered?
How accurate are scans?
Are scans safe?
How can I prepare for the scan?
Can I bring family or friends with me when I have the scan?
What will happen when I go into the scan room?
How long will my scan take?
Will the sonographer tell me the sex of my baby?
Can I have a picture of my baby?

What kind of scan will I be offered?

Most scans are carried out by trained health professionals called sonographers.
You will be offered scans that produce a two-dimensional black and white image.

The three-dimensional (3D) and colour scan images you sometimes see on television and in magazines are not routinely used in the NHS screening programme.

How accurate are scans?

Scans have limitations. Your health professional may tell you that there might be a problem, but will not be able to say for certain. In a small number of cases, babies are born with health problems that were not picked up by the scan.

Are scans safe?

Ultrasound scans are considered completely safe for mother and baby.

How can I prepare for the scan?

You will be asked to drink some water before attending for the scan so that you have some fluid in your bladder. This helps the sonographer record better pictures of your baby. The amount of water that you will be asked to drink will depend on the stage of pregnancy.

You should have a full bladder for the early pregnancy scan so should drink about a pint (568ml) one hour before the scan. Your bladder does not need to be full before the mid-pregnancy scan but drinking a glass or two of water will help.

Can I bring family or friends with me when I have the scan?

Hospitals have different policies about this, and it is a good idea to check beforehand. Most hospitals welcome partners in the room.

Please advise ahead of time if you need an interpreter so that one can be arranged for you. You can usually take both your partner and the interpreter into the room with you.

Young children may not be allowed because they can distract the sonographer.

What will happen when I go into the scan room?

In order for the sonographer to take good quality images of your baby, the room will be dimly lit. Scanning requires a lot of concentration, especially if your baby is very active. You will be asked to lie on a couch, raise your top up to your chest and lower your skirt or trousers to your hips. They will apply ultrasound gel to your abdomen and tuck paper around you to protect your clothing.

The sonographer then passes a hand-held device across your abdomen, which sends and picks up ultrasound waves. These waves allow the computer to build an image of your baby. The scan does not hurt at all but the gel might be a little cold. Occasionally the sonographer may need to apply slight pressure to your abdomen if some parts of your baby are difficult to see.

How long will my scan take?

A scan can take anything from ten to forty minutes. The images created on the screen are usually recognisable, for example you may see your baby’s head, heart and limbs. However, the sonographer may not be able to get clear pictures depending on the position of your baby and whether your baby is moving around a lot.

If you are overweight, this can reduce the quality of the scan image. If it is difficult to get a good image, scanning may take longer, or it may have to be repeated at another time.

The vast majority of scans show that the baby is healthy and no problems are found. This is because most babies are healthy.

Will the sonographer tell me the sex of my baby?

It is not the purpose of the scan to look for the sex of the baby unless there is a medical reason for doing so. Often it is impossible to tell because of the position of the baby, it is not completely reliable and can turn out to be wrong.

Can I have a picture of my baby?

You will need to check if your hospital provides this service. If they do, there may be a charge.

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Last updated: 09 July 2015