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12 Week Scan - What is it? and What to Expect

Congratulations on reaching the 12 week mark! The first trimester is often a very anxious time in your pregnancy as you wait to finally see your baby at the 12 week scan, also known as the dating scan or the nuchal translucency (NT) scan. Attending scans is completely optional as well as any tests offered alongside them. The below points cover what will happen during your scan and the reasons why.

What is the 12-week scan?

Around the 12th week of pregnancy, expectant mothers are offered a routine ultrasound examination called the 12-week scan. This non-invasive procedure is usually performed at a local hospital or a specialised ultrasound clinic. In Warwickshire these scans are mostly offered in Warwick Hospital, Coventry University Hospital, and Stratford-Upon-Avon Hospital. It is an exciting opportunity for parents to see their baby for the first time, as well as to gather vital information about the baby's health and development.

Purpose and Benefits

The 12-week scan serves multiple purposes, providing valuable insights for healthcare professionals and reassurance for parents. Let's explore its primary objectives:

a) Dating - One of the key reasons for the scan is to determine the baby's gestational age. By measuring the length of the baby from crown to rump, healthcare providers can estimate the due date, ensuring appropriate monitoring and care throughout the pregnancy. The margin of error on a dating scan is approximately 3-5 days either way. You will come away from your scan with a 'due date', and all your antenatal care will be based off that date.

b) Screening for abnormalities -The 12-week scan can also include an assessment of the baby's anatomy, specifically focusing on the nuchal translucency measurement. This measurement evaluates the fluid buildup at the back of the baby's neck, which can be an indicator of certain chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome. The scan, in conjunction with blood tests, helps in identifying the risk level for certain conditions. This is an optional test, and if you choose to have it you will be given a measurement regarding risk. These are:

Low risk : Anything below 1 in 1000 (example: 1 in 2500, 1 in 1250)

Intermediate risk: Anything between 1 in 50 and 1 in 1000 (example: 1 in 100, or 1 in 550)

High risk: Anything above 1 in 50 (example: 1:5 or 1:25)

Your care provider will discuss with you what these risks mean and offer follow on care if necessary.

c) Checking maternal health - While the primary focus is on the baby, the 12-week scan also provides an opportunity to assess the mother's well-being. The scan can help identify any potential issues, such as ectopic pregnancies or multiples (twins, triplets), which require appropriate care and monitoring.

What to Expect During the Scan

The 12-week scan typically lasts around 15-20 minutes. Here's what you can expect during this memorable experience:

a) Preparation: There is usually no specific preparation required for the scan. However, it is recommended to have a full bladder as this helps with obtaining clear images of the baby. It is advised not to drink fizzy drinks or lots of caffeine prior to your scan.

b) The ultrasound procedure: A trained sonographer will conduct the scan, applying a special gel on your abdomen. They will then gently glide a transducer over your belly, emitting sound waves that generate images of your baby on a screen. You and your partner can observe the images and marvel at your little one's early development.

c) Nuchal translucency measurement: As part of the scan, the sonographer will measure the fluid accumulation at the back of the baby's neck. The measurement, combined with blood test results, will be used to determine the risk of certain chromosomal abnormalities.

d) Capturing precious memories: Many healthcare providers offer the option of purchasing images or videos of the scan, allowing you to cherish this magical moment for years to come. You may ask, but most trusts will not allow you to video or take photos during the scan.

Emotional Impact

The 12-week scan is a deeply emotional experience for parents. Seeing your baby's tiny form, witnessing their movements, and hearing their heartbeat can create an overwhelming sense of joy and connection. It often marks the turning point where the pregnancy becomes more tangible and real, strengthening the bond between expectant parents and their unborn child.

Post-Scan Follow-up

After the scan, the sonographer will discuss the findings and share the estimated risk for chromosomal abnormalities based on the nuchal translucency measurement and the blood test results. It's important to remember that the scan provides a risk assessment, not a definitive diagnosis. If the results indicate an increased risk, further diagnostic tests, such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS), may be offered to confirm or rule out any abnormalities.

Support and Resources in Challenging Times

If you haven't received the news you had been hoping for during your 12 week scan, remember you are not alone and support is available. The UK offers various forms of support to help you navigate through this difficult time, please checkout out blog on Baby Loss which can point you in the direction of support available.

The 12-week scan is a significant milestone in your pregnancy, offering the opportunity to witness the early stages of their baby's development and receive valuable information about their health. From dating to screening for abnormalities, this scan plays a pivotal role in ensuring a healthy pregnancy. Emotionally, it serves as a magical moment of connection and anticipation for parents. As you embark on this remarkable journey, embrace the joy and wonder that comes with seeing your baby for the first time, knowing that the 12-week scan brings you one step closer to holding your precious bundle of joy in your arms.

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