What can you see on your baby scan?

Seeing your baby for the first time on an ultrasound scan is exciting  ̶ but what can the scan actually tell you about their health and what should you look for?

Ultrasound Scans

What you can see on a scan will depend both on your baby's stage of development at the time (called gestation) and whether the scan is in 2D, 3D or 4D.

Choosing a company with qualified and highly trained obstetric sonographers such as Ultrasound Direct, who are able to interpret what is visible on the screen and explain it you clearly, is very important. To the untrained eye it can be difficult to work out exactly what you are seeing - in the early stages at least your baby might just look like a tiny blob!

Here's a taster of the sort of detail you can expect from a ultrasound scan including early pregnancy scans, dating scans and anomaly scans.

Early Scans

Early pregnancy scans can take place from when you are 6 weeks pregnant. The embryo is very small and changing a lot during this time. To get the best result, the early pregnancy scan might have to be done transvaginally by inserting an ultrasound probe into the vagina. Your sonographer will always explain everything that will happen and get your consent before this happens. 

Your sonographer will be looking for:

  • a heartbeat

  • checking the embryo is in the right place (not in the fallopian tubes)

  • measurements to check the baby is the right size for your dates, which indicate it is developing at the expected rate.  

At an early pregnancy scan, it is too early to tell the sex of your baby or get a detailed look at your baby's face. You'll need another scan when you're further along for these.

What you will see will include:

  1. An outline of your baby

    At 6 weeks they'll look similar to a tadpole.  An early pregnancy scan at 6 weeks will be able to distinguish a curved 'fetal pole' with a head at one end and a tail-like structure at the other end.  The neural tube will have closed this week, which is what your baby's brain and spinal cord will develop from. In the next weeks a bump forms where the head and brain will develop. The brain will divide into distinct areas, eyes and ears begin to form and the buds of arms and legs develop.

    At 8 weeks your baby will double in size and their lungs and other internal organs will be developing.

  2. A visible heart beat

    This will help your sonographer see whether your pregnancy is viable or not. Research has shown that if a heartbeat is detected at 8 weeks the chances of the pregnancy continuing are at 98%.

    At this stage the heartbeat can be seen as a fluttering on the ultrasound scan, but can't be listened to.

Dating Scans

2D Dating Scans

A 2D dating scan does just as the name suggests and accurately dates your baby's development and can give you an estimated delivery date (EDD).  To do this your sonographer will take measurements of your baby from head to bottom, known as crown to rump length. They are carried out between 8 and 16 weeks. As well as accurately dating your pregnancy, checking fetal wellbeing is the primary purpose of these scans.

Your baby's internal organs have been formed by 12 weeks and your baby will now look more recognisably human. A dating scan can tell you if you are expecting a single baby or twins (or higher multiples), but your sonographer will not be able to tell you the sex of your baby yet.

4D Dating Scans

From 12 weeks, Ultrasound Direct can offer a free of charge look at your baby in beautiful 4D using the latest technology at your Dating Scan. This is an extra feature - the purpose of the scan is still dating your pregnancy and checking on your baby's progress and wellbeing.

With a look in 4D Freeview, you can see a moving picture of your baby and get a detailed view of their face if they're in a suitable position.

Anomaly Scan

The Anomaly Scan is also known as the 20-week scan. It is carried out between 19 and 24 weeks gestation and is your baby's big health check. Your sonographer will:

  • measure your baby's growth

  • look closely at anatomical structures such as the head, chest, stomach, heart, kidneys and limbs

  • check these structures for any anomalies (differences from what is normal) that could indicate any health problems in your baby

This is the most important baby scan you'll have in pregnancy. It's important to say though that it can't pick up all problems, so a normal anomaly scan is not an absolute guarantee that nothing is wrong with your baby's health. It's rare that any problems are detected at this stage, but if they are then you will be supported and counselled as to the next step and options.

You can also find out the sex of your baby at this scan if you choose to.

Anomaly scans at Ultrasound Direct include a look at baby in 4D using 4DFREEVIEW technology. You can see your baby's facial expressions and features and witness them sucking their thumb, smiling and waving. Some women say this helps them bond with their baby and showing the video to friends and family can involve then in the experience too.

Whatever baby scan you decide to have its crucial it's done by a qualified specialist obstetric sonographer, skilled in scanning, but also experienced in explaining what's seen on the screen and its significance so you understand exactly what's going on with your baby.