Ultrasound scans

Ultrasound scans use sound waves to create a picture of your baby on a TV screen. The scans are safe and can be carried out at any stage of your pregnancy.

Most ultrasounds done during your pregnancy are 'transabdominal ultrasounds'. This means that the probe of the scan is rubbed gently on your tummy to produce a picture of the baby on the screen.

If you are very early on in your pregnancy (6 to 12 weeks) or if you have certain medical conditions such as complications with your cervix (the neck of your womb) you may need to have a 'transvaginal ultrasound scan'. This means that the probe of the scan is placed gently inside your vagina. This is safe for your baby and can be the best way to get a clear view of your baby's heartbeat in the first trimester, especially between 6 to 12 weeks.

What happens during a scan?

Ultrasounds are usually performed by specially trained radiographers or sonographers, midwives or obstetricians. You will be brought into a darkened room. The darkness means it is easier for the person doing the scan to see a clear picture on the screen.

You will be asked to lie on a couch and to lift up your top to expose your tummy. You may need to roll down the waistband of your trousers also. The person doing the scan may tuck some tissue paper into your waistband to protect your clothes from the ultrasound gel.

Next, the ultrasound gel is squirted onto your tummy. Gel will be placed on your tummy to help the probe move. An image will appear on the screen. The pictures that you see are black and white. You may see an outline of your baby on the screen. You may not be able to tell where your baby is in the image. It is normal for the pictures to look a little cloudy or blurry at first. The person doing the scan will often point things out to you like the baby's heartbeat and head.

The scan does not hurt although sometimes the probe needs to be pressed quite firmly on your tummy. This can be uncomfortable if your bladder is full.

The two most common pregnancy scans are:

Page last reviewed: 15 March 2018
Next review due: 15 March 2021