Different Types of Pregnancy Ultrasound Scans Explained


Seeing your baby for the first time via a monitor screen can be an emotional and moving experience; but besides the take-home photograph, ultrasounds are vital for a number of other reasons. They can help track fetal development, screen for any potential problems, and monitor the health of you and your baby – but what are the different kinds of scans and when do you need them?

The Dating Scan

The first ultrasound scan you experience will be between 8 – 14 weeks of pregnancy in order to estimate when your baby is due. The sonographer will look at your baby’s measurements to calculate an estimated date of delivery. During this scan, they will check the baby is growing in the right place, whether there is more than one baby and they will also check your baby’s development so far.

Screening for Down’s, Edwards’ and Patau’s Syndromes

This screening is available between 10 – 14 weeks of pregnancy and is used to assess the chances of your baby being born with one or more of these conditions. If you choose to take this test, it can be carried out at the same time as the dating scan.

It involves a combined test of an ultrasound scan and a blood test. During the scan, the sonographer will measure the fluid at the back of the baby’s neck to determine ‘nuchal translucency’. They will then calculate the chance of your baby having Down’s, Edwards’ or Patau’s syndrome using your age, the blood test and scan results.

The Gender Scan

For expecting parents wanting to find out the gender of their unborn baby, you can find out from around 14 weeks via an ultrasound scan. This is usually offered to you during your 20-week scan, but if you can’t wait that long you can find out earlier by requesting an additional appointment.

Gender scans cannot be 100% accurate and depend on a variety of factors on the day, so it’s important to keep this in mind when booking your appointment.

The Mid-Pregnancy Scan

The mid-pregnancy scan, or the ‘anomaly scan’ takes place between 18 and 20 weeks of pregnancy. During this scan, the sonographer checks for structural and developmental abnormalities in the baby.

During this scan appointment, you may be offered screenings for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B by a specialist midwife.

Third-Trimester Scans

In some cases, a third-trimester scan is recommended by your midwife following the results of previous tests, previous complications or existing medical conditions. If your pregnancy is running smoothly, you probably won’t need another scan after 20 weeks. You don’t have to be referred – but you can request extra scans for general reassurance.

Third-trimester scans can be used to check that your baby is growing normally (a growth scan), as well as to check the activity of the placenta, monitor your baby’s heartbeat (Doppler scan) and assess your baby’s position.

Standard 2D Scans

The standard ultrasound test carried out by hospitals and clinics are two-dimensional. The traditional 2D ultrasound produces flat and outlined images which can be used to see your baby’s internal organs and help detect any internal issues.

These black and white images help the sonographer determine the baby’s gestation, growth, heartbeat, development and size.

3D Scans

Some expectant mothers choose to have a 3D ultrasound scan because they show more of a real-life image of the baby. You can have a 3D scan between 26 and 30 weeks of pregnancy – this scan allows your doctor to accurately see the width, height and depth of your baby.

3D ultrasound scans show still pictures of your baby’s external body rather than their insides, so you can see the shape of the baby’s facial features.

4D Scans

4D ultrasound scans are similar to 3D scans – but they show a moving video instead of still images. This captures highlights and shadows better, therefore creating a clearer image of the baby’s face and movements.

Both 3D and 4D ultrasound scans can be requested from 26 weeks of pregnancy, and is not usually offered as standard – except in certain predetermined circumstances.

Transvaginal Ultrasound Scans

A transvaginal ultrasound scan is used to examine internal structures. It involves a small probe passed into the vagina, and is most commonly used during the early stages of pregnancy when capturing a clear image externally is difficult.

Fetal Echocardiography

Doctors may perform a fetal echocardiography if they suspect your baby to have a congenital heart defect. This ultrasound scan captures an in-depth image of the size, shape and structure of your baby’s heart, which can be helpful for diagnosing heart problems.

All Ultrasound Scans

All types of ultrasound scans are safe and very-low risk. They may be done for both medical and non-medical reasons, but unnecessary exposure to ultrasound waves is not recommended according to medical guidelines. The average number of ultrasounds varies with each pregnancy and depends on the results from your initial tests and scans.

Unlike the NHS where you’re only entitled to 2 scans, LycaHealth offers a pregnancy package which gives you more opportunities to see your baby before its born.

If you would like more information about our private ultrasound scans or the pregnancy package we offer – or are interested in booking an appointment to see one of our sonographers, get in touch. You don’t need to wait for a referral from your doctor or specialist, you can self-refer for a private scan at LycaHealth. You are able to self refer for a private MRI scan, CT scan and X-Ray too.

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