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Service Details

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Depending on your stage of pregnancy, scans can:

  • Check that your baby has a heartbeat.
  • Say whether you're pregnant with one baby or twins or more.
  • Detect an ectopic pregnancy, where the embryo implants outside the womb, usually in the fallopian tube.
  • Find out the cause of any bleeding you may be having.
  • Accurately date your pregnancy by measuring your baby.
  • Assess your baby's risk of Down's syndrome by measuring fluid at the back of your baby’s neck between about 10 weeks and 14 weeks (nuchal translucency (NT) scan).
  • Find out why a blood screening test was abnormal.
  • Help with diagnostic tests, such as chorionic villus sampling (CVS) or amniocentesis, by showing the position of the baby and placenta.
  • Examine your baby to see if all his organs are normal.
  • Diagnose most abnormalities, such as spina bifida.
  • Assess the amount of amniotic fluid you have and find out where the placenta lies.
  • Measure your baby's rate of growth over several scans.

Method of testing

Early Pregnancy

The sonographer will put some gel on your tummy and move a hand-held device (transducer) over your skin to pick up images of your baby. 

If you’re having a scan in early pregnancy, you’ll need to drink a few glasses of water beforehand. A full bladder helps the ultrasound echoes to reach your womb, giving the sonographer a good view of your baby. 

If your baby's still deep in your pelvis, or if you're overweight, the image may not be very clear. In this case, your sonographer may offer to do the scan through your vagina (transvaginal scan). 

A transvaginal scan will give a much clearer picture of your baby, especially if you're at an early stage of pregnancy. You won't need a full bladder for this type of scan.

The vaginal transducer is long and narrow to fit comfortably inside your vagina. The sonographer will use a cover similar to a condom and will lubricate this with plenty of gel, so it slides in easily. She won't need to go in very deeply, and it won't harm you or your baby in any way.

Nuchal Translucency Scan

You can have a nuchal translucency (NT) scan for Down's syndrome between 11 weeks and 14 weeks of your pregnancy, or when your baby measures between 45mm (1.8in) and 84mm (3.3in). In most cases, this will be combined with a blood test for increased accuracy.

Second Trimester Scan

In your second trimester you'll be offered an anomaly scan between 18 weeks and 21 weeks. This is to check that your baby is developing normally. If the anomaly scan shows that your placenta is lying low in your womb, you may need a follow-up scan at 32 weeks.

Third Trimester and Growth Scan

In your third trimester, your doctor may recommend that you have a growth scan between 28 weeks and 40 weeks. This will be if you:

  • previously gave birth to a small baby
  • are having twins
  • have other complications, such as diabetes or high blood pressure
  • are pregnant with a baby who measures smaller than expected
  • are measuring larger than expected and your doctor suspects that there's too much fluid around your baby.

Normal ranges

Sample type

Fasting type