Ultrasound scans in pregnancy
Routine pregnancy ultrasound scans are offered in:
- the first trimester at around 11-13 weeks
- the second trimester at around 18-20 weeks.
In early pregnancy, your doctor might recommend non-routine ultrasound scans 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 20-week scan: what it’s for
The 20-week ultrasound scan is one of the routine tests in pregnancy. It:
- checks that your baby is growing and developing well
- checks the position of the placenta
- looks at your baby’s body parts and can usually pick up problems like spina bifida, congenital heart disease and limb difference
- might indicate that your baby has a genetic condition.
If you’re interested in finding out your baby’s sex, you can ask the ultrasonographer to look. But the ultrasonographer won’t always be able to tell the sex for sure.
This 20-week ultrasound scan can happen at a private clinic or public hospital department, and the results will be sent to your GP, obstetrician or midwife. They’ll contact you to let you know the results.
This scan often happens at around 20 weeks in pregnancy, but it can happen anywhere between 18 and 20 weeks. It’s sometimes called a morphology scan.
What you can see at the 20-week scan
At the 20-week scan, you’ll probably see your baby’s heart beating, the curve of baby’s spine, baby’s face, and baby’s arms waving and legs kicking. There might even be some cute thumb-sucking.
Because you can see so much in this scan, you might get a stronger sense of the baby or babies coming into your life.
If you want a photo or video of your baby, ask the hospital or clinic what it offers. Some services will give you a hard copy, and others might send them to you digitally. Some services have 3D, 4D or even 5D ultrasound scanners, but these scans often cost extra.
Miscarriage, development problems or health conditions at 20 weeks
Most 20-week scans show that babies are developing well.
It might help you to know that the 20-week scan is unlikely to show that there has been a miscarriage. After about 13 weeks, miscarriages are uncommon.
Sometimes the 20-week scan picks up development problems, health conditions or other complications. For example, around half of all babies with congenital heart disease are diagnosed through pregnancy ultrasound scans.
Some fetal development 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 your ultrasound shows a problem. You and your partner will need support. Your doctor or midwife will be able to help.