Safe early baby scans

Is ultrasound safe in early pregnancy?

Early scans in pregnancy can give you valuable information at what can be a worrying time – especially if you are experiencing spotting or bleeding and are concerned you might be having a miscarriage.

Sometimes the wait until your NHS 12-week scan can seem to go on forever and a private early scan can answer those questions that are causing you anxiety.

Early viability pregnancy scans are available from 6 weeks of your pregnancy (approximately two weeks after your missed period), and use ultrasound to detect a heartbeat and measure your baby to check their growth matches your dates. They give you a snapshot of your baby’s health and development at that moment in time.

Are early ultrasound scans safe?

All pregnant people worry about doing anything that may harm their baby – whether it’s drinking alcohol or eating blue cheese or pate. Unlike these hazards, ultrasound technology does not pose any known risks to your baby at any stage of pregnancy.

Ultrasound waves are sound waves at the extremes of the acoustic spectrum well above the human hearing threshold which are used to make up a detailed picture of a baby in your womb.

Be reassured that ultrasound technology is an extremely useful diagnostic tool which has been around for 50 years and so far, no adverse effects have been found. In fact, experts argue that pregnancy scans have made birth safer by identifying potential growth problems and medical conditions such as a low-lying placenta or heart defects in babies.

Reassuring research

The Report of the Independent Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation said the available evidence did not suggest the lower levels of ultrasound used for diagnostic purposes (meaning the type of ultrasound used for baby scans) had effects on several outcomes. These included perinatal mortality (the technical term for stillbirths and deaths in the first week of life) and childhood cancers. This means that the research showed that ultrasound scanning does not have an effect on the likelihood of these things happening.

Whilst it's true some studies have pointed to an association between ultrasound scanning and an increased prevalence of left-handedness, crucially experts reviewing the evidence said the studies were 'weak'. The authors of one study concluded that no cause and effect relationship had been established.

More research into the safety of ultrasound is ongoing, but the fact that no problems have so far emerged over many decades of use is very reassuring.

You're in safe hands

Ultrasound pregnancy scans remains the safest way of checking the health of an unborn baby without exposing mother and child to the hazards of radiation. At very high doses (not doses used for baby scans) ultrasound is capable of damaging biological tissue through heating up tissue. However, it's important to bear in mind that the levels used in diagnostic ultrasound (including baby scans) are much lower and do not heat up tissue beyond the normal physiological range. All ultrasound equipment also carries heat sensors which monitor temperatures for added safety and sonographers follow strict professional guidelines on exposure.

All sonographers employed by Ultrasound Direct are fully qualified and trained in pregnancy ultrasound and their priority is always your baby’s health and the medical purpose of your scan. Baby scans are not performed unnecessarily, and your baby’s welfare and wellbeing will always be their top priority.

All our sonographers are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council or the Register of Clinical Technologists to ensure that they are always up to date with the latest safety guidelines - and most of them also work in their local NHS.

You can always ask your private ultrasound provider where they are registered and about their training to make sure you're getting the safest possible scan for your baby.