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Ultrasound photo of a baby

When is it?

Your first scan is likely to be between 10 and 14 weeks of pregnancy. It’s known as ‘the dating scan’ because it’s carried out to see how many weeks pregnant you are. Based on that, you’ll get a good idea of your due date. You should have had information about the scan from your doctor or midwife so if you haven’t, ask them for a leaflet. At this first scan, you can ask for a picture of the baby to be taken during the scan, but be prepared to pay a small fee as most hospitals charge for this.

What is the scan for?

The first scan is an exciting and emotional time for a mums and dads-to-be. It confirms that the pregnancy is progressing well, monitors the baby’s heartbeat and measures the length of the foetus – it’s only between 3cm and 7cm long at this stage. The length of the baby is vital information because it helps the medical staff determine exactly how many weeks pregnant you are. It also shows if there are twins or triplets or more! It’s important to know this so that both mum and hospital can prepare for a multiple birth.

What else does the scan show?

The baby is so small that the scan won’t show if you’re expecting a boy or a girl. The aim is to get as accurate a date as possible so that other tests can be carried out at the right time. If you’ve decided to have the combined test for Down’s syndrome in early pregnancy, the sonographer will also take a nuchal translucency measurement now, which takes a picture of the space at the back of the baby’s neck and assesses how much fluid is there. The nuchal translucency measurement is combined with the results of a blood test and your age, to work out the probability of having a baby with Down’s syndrome.

How long does it take?

The scan takes about 10 minutes and shouldn’t cause any discomfort. Your bump will be covered in gel and a small scanner or transducer moved over it. The transducer sends ultrasonic sound waves through to the womb and the waves bounce off the baby’s body giving an accurate picture. Ultrasonic sounds can’t be picked up by the human ear, so don’t expect to hear anything. And don’t worry about the safety of these scans – they’ve been researched for more than 30 years and no harm to the baby has ever been found.

What happens next?

At the time of the test, ask how you will get the results. They should be available within two weeks. If any problems are detected, your midwife or doctor will contact you and tell you about any follow-up tests that may be necessary. Even if you are asked back for further tests, don’t assume the worst. These tests are designed to rule out abnormalities and, if anything is wrong, offer the best help as early as possible. So relax mum-to-be! Your first scan is a huge milestone that’s intended to reassure you so you can enjoy your pregnancy.