Ultrasound scans during pregnancy

This leaflet contains important information regarding ultrasound scans during pregnancy. It tells you how, when and why the different types of scans are offered.
At least two ultrasound scans are offered during your pregnancy. These scans are the dating scan and the abnormality scan. Further scans may be necessary. Please remember that all scans are optional.

What is an Ultrasound scan

An ultrasound scan is a painless examination which uses sound waves to make pictures of
the inside of your body and your baby.

Is ultrasound safe?

Yes, ultrasound is harmless to both mother and baby.¹ No radiation (x-rays) is used.

How should I prepare for my ultrasound scan?

The scan is best performed when you have a full bladder this makes your uterus (womb)
easier to see. To fill your bladder please drink 1 pint of still fluid (water, fruit juice) 1 hour before your appointment time. Do not go to the toilet again until after your scan.

Please remove any jewellery (belly button rings) from your abdomen before your scan as this may damage the ultrasound machine.

Who will do my ultrasound scan?

Your scan will be performed by an ultrasonographer or midwife. Whilst ultrasonographers and some midwives are specialist in ultrasound scanning, they are not doctors. Very occasionally they may want a radiologist or obstetrician (doctor) to scan your baby as well.

Who can I bring with me to watch my scan?

You may bring one adult, for example your partner, mother or friend with you, to watch your scan. The person performing your scan will be concentrating whilst scanning your baby so we ask you to save your questions until the end. It is for this reason too that we ask you not to bring your children with you unless absolutely necessary.

We do not allow recording equipment such as camcorders to be brought into the scan room for legal reasons.

How will my ultrasound scan be performed?

You will be asked to lie on a couch and expose your abdomen. Some clear gel will be spread on to your skin. The gel allows the ultrasound probe to move smoothly over your skin. The gel may sometimes wet your clothes but it will not stain them.

The lights in the examination room will be dimmed and the ultrasonographer will move the probe over your abdomen whilst looking at the pictures of your baby on a television screen. They will be concentrating on the scan and so may not talk to you. Do not be worried by this.

Once the ultrasonographer has finished your scan, he or she will show you and your partner your baby.

How long will my ultrasound scan last?

Your scan will last for up to 30 minutes.

What is a dating scan?

A dating scan is offered to all women between 9 – 14 weeks of pregnancy. The reasons it is carried out are:

  • To confirm your pregnancy
  • To calculate your due date by scanning your baby.
  • To see how many babies there are.
  • To check that your baby appears normal at this time, as very occasionally serious abnormalities may be seen.

Your baby will be very small at 9 – 14 weeks and sometimes it cannot be seen clearly b
scanning you through your full bladder. If this is the case a vaginal ultrasound scan will be
necessary. A vaginal scan involves putting an ultrasound probe inside your vagina where it is much closer to your womb. This gives much clearer pictures of your baby. This type of
scan does not hurt and is less uncomfortable than having a cervical smear. It will not harm
you or your baby. A new clean cover is put on the probe for each scan.

Total privacy is guaranteed and there will always be another female member of staff present in the room.

What is an abnormality/anatomy scan?

Abnormalities are rare. An abnormality scan is normally offered to all women between 20 – 22 weeks of pregnancy. During this scan the ultrasonographer will be looking carefully for any abnormalities of your baby.

Ultrasound is very good at detecting abnormalities when they are present but will not detect them all.

During the scan we check

  • That your baby’s head, face, spine, chest, stomach, kidneys, bladder and arms and
    legs appear normal. Please remember that some or all of these body parts may not
    be clearly seen during your scan and that 100% accuracy of ultrasound abnormality
    screening of your baby cannot be guaranteed.
  • The growth of your baby since your last scan.
  • The fluid around your baby.
  • The position of the placenta (afterbirth).

Sometimes it is not possible to do all these checks because your baby may be too small or in an awkward position. This does not mean that there is anything wrong but you may need to come back for a second scan. The ultrasonographers are very experienced but sometimes they may want the consultant to look at your baby. This does not necessarily mean there is anything wrong as abnormalities are not common.

Occasionally your consultant or obstetrician may want you to have a scan at the Fetal
Medicine Unit at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle upon Tyne. If this is the case you will be given as much information as possible about any potential problems both here and at the Royal Victoria Infirmary.

Most often the scan confirms that nothing unusual can be seen and most women are
reassured to see the normal development of their baby.

Your scan results will be given to the person looking after you during your pregnancy. They will also be filed in your own handheld notes, which you should remember to bring with you to all appointments.

Will I need any other scans later in my pregnancy?

Further scans may be necessary:

  • If your baby was not clearly seen at the time of the abnormality scan
  • If your doctor or midwife are worried about the size of your baby, a growth scan may be requested.
  • To check the position of your placenta if it was very low at the time of the abnormality
  • scan.
  • If during the very early part of your pregnancy you experience vaginal bleeding and
  • pelvic pain, you will require a scan. At this time a vaginal scan may be necessary.

Will you be able to tell the sex of my baby?

We do not look to see the sex of your baby unless you ask. If you wish to know the sex, let
the ultrasonographer know before your scan.

Remember it is not always possible to tell the sex. This may be because of your baby’s position or size. Also, if you are overweight, the pictures of your baby may not be very clear.

Despite our best effort we can sometimes get the sex of your baby wrong.

Can I buy photographs of my baby?

Yes, you may buy as many pictures as you wish, however the image will be the same on every copy. They cost £2 each. There is a ticket machine in reception. It takes £1, 50p, 20p
and 10p coins, please use correct change. Please buy a ticket before you go to the scan
room and hand the ticket to the ultrasonographer (one ticket per photo) Please do not
laminate the photos as it will ruin them.


1 ter Haar, G (2001) in Meire H, Cosgrove D, Dewbury K and Farrant P
(editors); “Safety of Diagnostic Ultrasound” in Clinical Ultrasound:

A comprehensive text. Churchill Livingstone, pages 37-45.

This leaflet has been produced in partnership with patients and carers. All patient
leaflets are regularly reviewed, and any suggestions you have as to how it may be
improved are extremely valuable.

Please write to Ultrasonography Lead, Radiology Department, Queen Elizabeth
Hospital or tel. 0191 445 2487.
Contact Numbers: Women’s Health Clinic – Reception 0191 4452141

Further Information is available from:
National Childbirth Trust
Tel: 0870 444 8707
NHS Direct 24 hour helpline 0845 4647
Or via the website at www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk

Data Protection

Any personal information is kept confidential. There may be occasions where your
information needs to shared with other care professionals to ensure you receive the best care possible.

In order to assist us improve the services available your information may be used for clinical audit, research, teaching and anonymised for National NHS Reviews. Further information is available in the leaflet Disclosure of Confidential Information IL137, via Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust website or the PALS Service.

This leaflet can be made available in other languages and formats upon request