Ultrasound scans in pregnancy
Routine pregnancy ultrasound scans are offered in:
- the first trimester at 11-13 weeks
- the second trimester at 18-20 weeks.
In early pregnancy, your doctor might recommend a non-routine ultrasound scan for vaginal bleeding or abdominal pain.
Later in pregnancy, your doctor might recommend extra ultrasounds if there are medical concerns about the pregnancy, there have been problems with a previous pregnancy, there’s uncertainty about the pregnancy dates or you’re expecting twins or multiples.
The 12-week ultrasound scan: what it’s for
The 12-week ultrasound is one of the routine tests in pregnancy. It:
- checks that your baby is growing inside the womb
- checks that your baby is developing as expected
- screens your baby for chromosomal anomalies
- shows how many babies you have
- helps health professionals work out your baby’s age and estimated due date.
This 12-week ultrasound scan can happen at a private clinic or public hospital, and the results will usually be sent directly to your GP, obstetrician or midwife. They’ll contact you to let you know about the results.
This ultrasound scan often happens at around 12 weeks in pregnancy, but it can happen anywhere between 11 and 13 weeks.
The 12-week ultrasound and first-trimester screening
The 12-week ultrasound is part of combined first trimester screening for chromosomal anomalies like Down syndrome. This screening process also includes a blood test.
As part of the ultrasound scan, the ultrasonographer measures the fluid at the back of your baby’s neck. This measurement is combined with the results of the blood test to work out your baby’s chance of having a chromosomal anomaly.
Screening doesn’t diagnose chromosomal anomalies. Only special diagnostic antenatal tests like chorionic villus sampling (CVS) and amniocentesis can do this. If you’re thinking about having these tests, genetic counselling services can give you more information.
Most 12-week ultrasounds show that babies are developing well, but sometimes they pick up chromosomal anomalies or other problems. Some of these problems aren’t serious and won’t need much, if any, treatment. But some are signs of serious disability. It’s worth thinking about how you might feel if the ultrasound shows a problem. You and your partner will need support. Your doctor or midwife will be able to help.
Miscarriage at 12 weeks
Although most pregnancies are straightforward and progress to term, there’s a chance that the 12-week ultrasound scan could show that there has been a miscarriage.
A miscarriage is when a fetus dies before 20 weeks of pregnancy. Miscarriage is common. Around 1 in 5 confirmed pregnancies are miscarried.
Miscarriage can be very sad and distressing. Along with grief and disappointment, you might feel helpless at not being able to protect your baby. There’s no right way to feel or grieve after a miscarriage.
If you and your partner (if you have one) aren’t coping or feel depressed, you might need professional help. See your GP or speak to a counsellor. You could also call Lifeline on 131 114, MensLine on 1300 789 978 or QLife (LGBTQ+ peer support) on 1800 184 527.