First ultrasound, when and why

In the UK when a woman suspects they are pregnant or takes a home pregnancy test to confirm that it is positive the next step is to inform your GP who will refer you to women’s health services at your local hospital, clinic or centre. Most GPs in the UK will not perform a pregnancy test to confirm that you are pregnant unless you ask for one. You should receive a letter before 12 weeks for a booking in appointment with your midwife who may or may not arrange for your first ultrasound.

When do you get your first ultrasound?

Here in the UK you will usually receive an appointment or letter to make an appointment for your first ultrasound between 11 -14 weeks, if you are not sure when you had your last period you may be asked to come in sooner. If you are over 6 weeks then you will see a small sac and possibly a heartbeat, this is the earliest a viable pregnancy can be detected. Some hospitals will now offer a combined test that involves dating the pregnancy and also nuchal translucency at the same time.

The dating scan is very important as you cannot go by your last menstrual period (LMP) to accurately determine how far along you are. The dating scan is accurate because they measure the baby and the details are put into the computer which then calculates your estimated due date. This due date does not usually change the further along you get as all babies are the same size between 11-14 weeks gestation.

The nuchal translucency scan is optional and you do not need to have it if you don’t want to, it basically involves measuring the fold at the back of the neck to see if there is a risk of Down’s syndrome. They combine this with a blood test for accurate results, if your test result shows a high risk of Down’s syndrome you may be offered further tests to confirm this.

What happens when you go for an ultrasound?

You will be asked to lie on a comfortable flat bed and you should lift up your shirt so the sonographer can put some gel on your stomach before a small device is placed on your stomach to see the ‘baby’. Ultrasounds are perfectly safe for both mother and baby it works by sending high frequency sound waves that bounce off the baby and create the image you see on screen. Even at 12 weeks you can make out the growing baby, the hands, feet, face and stomach are all clear to see on screen.

Ultrasounds are not really thought of as a must during pregnancy so some trusts may offer you only one to make sure the growth of the baby is fine. If this is the case then there is not much you can do but pay for private scans that can cost as much as £75 each time. In general you will get two ultrasounds during pregnancy.