Pregnancy: what to expect at your first scan

Are you pregnant and wondering what to expect at your first scan? Here's what will happen

If you're in the early stages of pregnancy, you will be offered your first scan at around 8-14 weeks. This is called the dating scan, and it is used to check how far along you are in pregnancy and also mark the baby's development.

It's likely that your midwife won't listen to the baby's heartbeat until around 18 weeks, so the scan is the first opportunity to see and hear your baby.

For many people the scan can be incredibly exciting, but it's also normal to feel anxious, too.

What to expect at your first scan during pregnancy - the dating scan

All being well during your pregnancy, your first scan will be your dating scan. You midwife will usually request a scan appointment for you at your booking-in appointment, to take place at the end of the first trimester and start of the second trimester.

Scans will take place at your local hospital, in the ultrasound department, and be conducted by a sonographer.

So, what to expect at your first scan? It is likely to be an abdominal scan - where the lower part of your abdomen is smeared with clear jelly and then scanned - although some hospitals may also give you an internal vaginal scan, too. You won't have to get fully undressed, although you might be asked to remove some items of clothing.

The purpose of the first scan is to check how many weeks you are and calculate an accurate due date for your baby. This is done from the baby's measurements as these are the most accurate, so don't be surprised if it changes from what you initially calculated.

The first scan also checks how many babies you are carrying, that they are growing in the right place and also measures development and blood flow to the baby. There are additional tests which can take place (more details here).

Having an early scan

You could potentially be offered an early scan from around week six of pregnancy. This is usually requested by your doctor or midwife if there is a cause for concern in the pregnancy, for example if you've had any spotting or bleeding, or if you've had a previous miscarriage.

Early scans will usually take place at the Early Pregnancy Unit at the hospital. As it's so early on in pregnancy, you will probably have a vaginal scan rather than an abdominal one (as the foetus is small at this stage, it's easier to get a clearer picture).

You can also have an early scan from a private scanning centre, although you'll need to pay for this yourself. If this is something you want to do, make sure you pick a reputable centre.

Do I need to have a full bladder before my first scan?

It depends on the hospital. Some clinics will tell you to drink lots beforehand and come along with a full bladder (which we know is uncomfortable when you're pregnant!) Some don't need you to have a full bladder before the scan. Ring and check first!

Dealing with scan anxiety

For many people the scan can be exciting, but for others it can cause anxiety, especially in the run-up to it happening. It's natural to feel like this, especially as pregnancy is a hormonal time. Make sure you chat to your midwife about it.

What appointments do I have next, after my first scan?

This depends on if you have any risk factors (for women who do, they are often offered additional scans). If not, then read this post on care and appointments during pregnancy.

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Alexandra Phillips

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