While you’ll be counting the days until you’ll be a little family, you’re probably also feeling a bit anxious about your growing baby’s health. A range of tests and scans are available to check your developing baby’s health, but you’re unlikely to be offered them all.
Here’s what you can expect…
Weeks 6-10: An early scan
Who has it? Women who’ve experienced bleeding or had problems during an earlier pregnancy.
What’s it for? If you’ve miscarried in the past or had some bleeding this time, your midwife might offer an early scan to put your mind at rest. This may be carried out using a probe inside your vagina, which will give a clearer picture at this stage than an abdominal scan. It’s a great way to get reassurance that will keep you buoyant during your nine months.
Will I have to pay? No, not if your midwife or GP refers you. You may be seen at an early pregnancy clinic at your local hospital.
Week 12: Dating ultrasound scan
Who has it? The majority of pregnant women.
What’s it for? This is a really exciting time for you, as it’s the first time you’ll see your developing baby! It’s often your first chance to get concrete proof of your pregnancy – and to find out how many babies you’re carrying.
It’ll also help your partner to feel more involved, so it’s best to ensure that he can come along if at all possible.
The scan is done at your local hospital, by a sonographer (a health professional who is trained in medical ultrasound), and checks your baby’s heartbeat, his size, shape and position. Measuring how big your baby is at this stage also provides an accurate way of confirming your due date.
Will I have to pay? No.
Weeks 11-14: Nuchal translucency test
Who has it? Women who might be at higher risk of having a baby with Down’s syndrome, such as those over 35.
What’s it for? A scan that assesses your baby’s risk of Down’s syndrome, to help you decide whether or not to go for a test such as an amniocentesis. It’s non invasive, so there’s no risk to you or your baby. It looks at the thickness of your baby’s neck, as Down’s babies have a greater amount of fluid in this area. The test is 75 per cent reliable, going up to 90 per cent if combined with a blood test.
Will I have to pay? It isn’t offered to everyone and is only available in a small number of hospitals, but you can pay to have it privately.
Week 20: Anomaly ultrasound scan
Who has it? Most pregnant women will be offered this scan on the NHS, but this may not be the case in some areas.
What’s it for? This is the one you’ve been waiting for! Your 20-week scan is the most detailed scan you’ll have, and is used to check that all’s well with your baby. Seeing your baby on screen will be an emotional and magical moment for you and your partner, and you should also be able to find out the sex if you want to.
You and your partner will be able to watch as the scan is being done. The sonographer will look to see how many babies you are carrying, as twins are sometimes not spotted until now, and she’ll also look for the baby’s heartbeat. You’ll be able to see details such as your baby’s head, hands and feet – with a little help from the experts!
The sonographer will check the details of your baby’s development: the shape of his head, his spine and vertebrae, his abdominal wall, his hands and feet and all his major organs. The placenta, umbilical cord and the amniotic fluid surrounding your baby will also be checked to make sure that everything’s developing as it should be. About 50 per cent of all major abnormalities will be detected by this scan.
Certain measurements will also be taken, such as the circumference of your baby’s head and his thighbone. These accurately date the pregnancy, and this is what you’ll use as your due date if there’s more than seven days difference between this date and your original date according to your last menstrual period.
You’ll come away from the scan with a picture of your developing baby to show off to your friends, but beware that it’s heat sensitive, so don’t try photocopying it! Scan it into a computer if you want to keep it as a permanent record.
Will I have to pay? No. However, some hospitals now offer new 3D scans, which you do have to pay for. They’re best carried out between 26 and 32 weeks, and can provide a very accurate image of your developing baby.
Potential problems may require further scans. These might include issues such as the midwife believing that your baby is breech late on in pregnancy, or if you have an identified fibroid which the consultant wishes to keep under observation to ensure it is not going to interfere with the birth in any way.
3D and 4D scans can be done privately and show detailed moving images. The British Medical Ultrasound Society advises you ensure that the sonographer is fully qualified, the clinic has procedures for incidental findings (such as an abnormality) and that the equipment is operated at settings which conform to its guidelines for non-diagnostic scanning.