Early Pregnancy Scans, Why have one?
In the UK you could be referred for an early pregnancy scan at your local Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit through your GP or Midwife. You may be referred for an early scan if you have pain, vaginal bleeding or spotting, or because you have a history of problems with a previous pregnancy.
Some people may also opt to have a private early pregnancy scan, simply because they would like some reassurance for example, if they are a little worried or they want to know where they are in their pregnancy if they are unsure of their dates. Early baby ultrasound scans can give you information such as dating, viability or just good old reassurance.
How will I be scanned?
There are a couple of ways that you may be scanned. In early pregnancy, particularly before 11 weeks into your pregnancy, it would not be considered unusual to be offered a trans-vaginal scan if clear views can't be seen transabdominally (over the tummy).This is where a probe is inserted into the vagina. This type of scanning gives a much clearer view in early pregnancy as your baby is pretty small at this stage. It can actually be more comfortable than a trans-abdominal scan as you don't need a full bladder although, some people may consider it to be invasive and can decline.
Trans-abdominal scanning (over the tummy) is also used and can allow good views although, in early pregnancy. Trans-vaginal scanning is considered to be the gold standard for image quality and examination. Trans-abdominal scans do require a full bladder and can offer adequate information without having to undergo a trans-vaginal scan when checking the progress of your pregnancy.
What will an early pregnancy scan tell me?
An early scan may show whether or not you have a viable ongoing pregnancy. The scan will let you know if there is a heartbeat, which would be visualised not heard at this stage and beats per minute taken using a M-mode which is a safe way to measure your baby's heart rate in early pregnancy. The scan will also check how many babies you are carrying and measure the baby to give you an accurate gestational age. It's important to be aware that dates can sometimes be a little off due to the variability in cycle lengths i.e. when ovulation took place. If the dates don't match the exact number of weeks since your last period then it could be down to cycle length. These signs are all quite positive but if there are any signs such as bleeding or all that needs to be seen cannot not be confirmed, you may need a further scan in a week or two to check what’s happening. Early pregnancy scans should also take a look at the uterus, pelvic area and ovaries as a part of the examination.
When is the best time to have a scan?
The best time to have a scan is from 7 weeks. At this time it would normally be possible to see a heartbeat but sometimes dates may be a little off and a second scan may be necessary.
If a second scan is required then your Sonographer will be looking for changes in the size of the baby, sac size and be looking for a heart beat.
It can be really stressful if you can't obtain answers in one appointment and you may need to have a few scans before accurate information can be offered. If this is the case then information on where to find support should be given to you.
Unfortunately, in some cases the scan can show that the baby has passed away, sometimes without having any symptoms. If this does happen then it can be extremely shocking. Sonographers will offer you as much information as they can but often the reason that this happens is not known.
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