Your 12-week scan: what to expect

Your 12-week ultrasound scan is a chance to see your baby for the very first time! Parenting expert Sally J Hall explains what to expect.

5 min read

Your 12-week scan: what to expect

Your 12-week ultrasound scan is a chance to see your baby for the very first time! Parenting expert Sally J Hall explains what to expect.

5 min read

Your questions answered about your 12-week scan

The chance to see your little one inside your tummy for the first time is quite something! This early ultrasound check, also called the dating scan or the Nuchal translucency scan, is an opportunity to see your baby’s head, body and often the heartbeat.

Amazing and nerve-wracking at the same time, it’s natural to have lots of questions. Click on the most frequently asked questions below to find out the answers:

What is the 12-week scan?

Your 12-week pregnancy check is an ultrasound scan; a non-invasive medical imaging test using high frequency sound waves (ultrasound) that can allow your specially trained medical professional, a sonographer, to see your baby inside the womb.

The scan is used to check how many weeks pregnant you are and to check for routine or more serious health problems your baby may have. The picture created is called a sonogram and the scan usually takes around 20 minutes.

When will I be offered my 12-week scan?

Your 12-week dating scan is usually offered during your first trimester, between 11 and 13 weeks of pregnancy plus six days. If you want to check when you will be invited for your scan, speak to your GP or Midwife.

What happens at the 12-week scan?

The Sonographer will use the 12-week scan to:

  • Check your pregnancy is progressing well and that your baby is growing in the right place

  • Check your baby’s size and therefore estimate your estimated date of delivery (EDD)

  • See how many babies you’re carrying

  • An optional screening for Down’s Syndrome

  • Show the position of the placenta (if you have placenta praevia, you may need a Caesarean birth)

  • Check how well your baby is developing

  • Screen for other conditions such as Spina Bifida

You will lie on a couch for this scan with your tummy exposed and the sonographer will smear gel on your stomach and then move a probe across your tummy to capture an image of your baby.

The scan does not hurt, though you’ll feel pressure as the probe is moved. It may be a little uncomfortable, as you need a full bladder. The test is generally done on the outside of your tummy, though some need a trans-vaginal scan instead.

Can the 12-week scan pick up any health problems with my baby?

The dating scan can pick up some health conditions or possible problems with your baby’s development. If this is the case, your doctor will then discuss with you any further diagnostic scans to have, or what actions to take where necessary.

If you have agreed to have the screening test, Down’s syndrome is one condition that the scan may pick up. At this stage, this involves a blood test and the sonographer examining the quantities of fluid at the back of your baby’s neck. This is sometimes called a nuchal translucency scan. In Down’s, a baby may have more fluid in this position. It’s advisable to check for Down’s if you’re an older mum or if your blood tests have shown a higher risk. This scan may not definitely confirm that your baby has Down’s, but it does let you decide what additional scans and tests you can choose to have next.

Do I have to have a 12-week scan?

It is totally up to you to decide what scans and tests in pregnancy you want to have. Bear in mind that the standard scans are advisable, as they can help prevent potential problems further along in your pregnancy. The 12-week scan is helpful with identifying your baby’s chances of health problems and to check on your health too. You will need to give your consent for the 12-week scan, as it is a medical examination.

Who can I bring with me to my 12-week scan?

Some hospitals and clinics will still have Covid restrictions in place so, sadly, this may mean you have to have your scan alone. If this is not the case by the time you have your scan, you can bring your partner, or one friend or relative with you.

What do I need to bring to my 12-week scan?

You’ll need to bring:

  • Your pregnancy notes

  • A bottle of water, as you need a full bladder for this scan

  • A snack, as you may have to wait a while and get hungry

Make sure you wear something that’s easy to pull out of the way for the scan; you’ll need to expose your tummy from just below your bra to the top of your pubic bone, so trousers and a stretchy top are ideal.

When will my next scan be?

The next scan to look forward to is your 20-week scan when you may be able to find out the sex of your baby and see them in more detail.

We consulted with healthcare professionals to help us with these questions. For further advice about your 12-week scan, speak to your midwife or GP, or visit NHS online.

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