When to have an early pregnancy scan

By Maria Birch

January 12, 2022

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It can be difficult to decide when to have an early pregnancy scan. Sadly, there's not a simple answer that applies to everyone. But here's my advice on when to have an early pregnancy scan from years of scanning pregnant ladies.

When can you see a baby on a pregnancy scan?

The answer to this depends on a few different factors. 

With that in mind, if the following are all true...

• your scan is on a good-quality ultrasound machine...

• your scan is with an experienced sonographer...

• you are reasonably confident in your dates....

... then you should be able to see your baby on an ultrasound scan from 6 weeks gestation. 

Having said that, the earlier you have a scan, the more likely it is that you'll need an internal (or transvaginal) scan to see and assess your baby accurately.

So let's talk about that for a moment.

When can you see a baby on abdominal pregnancy scan?

An abdominal ultrasound scan is simply a scan that involves placing the ultrasound probe (the thing the sonographer holds) on your belly (abdomen) and moving it around.

On the other hand, an internal scan - or transvaginal scan - is when the ultrasound probe is gently inserted into your vagina. This allows the sonographer to see your baby and their heartbeat when they are not yet big enough to see with an abdominal scan.

Naturally, you might want to avoid an internal scan, in which case it's helpful to know when it's possible to see your baby abdominally.

The answer is that you can sometimes see your baby on an abdominal scan at 6 weeks, but not always (for the reasons mentioned above), so it's best to wait until 8 weeks if you want to avoid an internal scan.

When can you see a baby on an internal pregnancy scan?

You can usually see your baby on an internal pregnancy scan from 6 weeks.

But bear in mind that, that means 6 weeks as determined by an ultrasound scan - which is the most accurate way to assess your dates.

Before your first scan, use a due date calculator that asks for your last menstrual period (LMP) and cycle length to assess your dates. But sadly, it's not that accurate.

Therefore, if you have a scan when you think you are 6 weeks pregnant, and you are actually earlier than that, it may not be possible to assess your pregnancy accurately.

Unfortunately, when this happens, the sonographer can't determine whether the absence of a foetus is because you have miscarried or because you are simply too early to assess your pregnancy with a scan.

This means that you will most likely be in limbo for a week or two as you wait for another scan when you're further along, which can lead to unnecessary anxiety.

My point is that, if you are confident in your dates, and you have a scan with a good sonographer - on a high quality ultrasound machine - then you can see your baby from 6 weeks (but it may require an internal scan). 

On the other hand, if any of these factors are untrue (e.g. you're not confident in your dates or you want to avoid an internal scan) then it's best to wait until 8 weeks.

What can you see on an early pregnancy scan?

That's a great question!

Of course, it depends how far along you are when you have your first scan.

If you are 6 weeks pregnant, you won't see much of your baby's anatomy, but you should be able to see the foetus and their heart beat.

Therefore, a very early scan like this is ideal if you want to ease your mind by confirming that your pregnancy is viable.

Then, as your pregnancy progresses, you can see more and more of your baby's anatomy and development. 

When to expect your first NHS pregnancy scan

Your first NHS pregnancy scan should be scheduled for between 11 and 14 weeks gestation.

This is the optimum time for the sonographer to find out how far along you are and estimate your due date (this is called "dating").

If you decide to opt for the combined screening test for Down's, Edward's and Patau's syndromes, your first NHS pregnancy scan needs to be performed between 11 weeks and 14 weeks, 1 day.

Having said that, if you suffer any pain or bleeding in early pregnancy, please contact your GP, as you may be eligible for an earlier NHS scan to check your baby’s health before the more detailed “dating scan”.

How to see your baby on an early pregnancy scan as early as 6 weeks

As I mentioned, your first NHS scan is deliberately scheduled for between 11 weeks and 14 weeks + 1 day, because that's the optimum time to date your pregnancy.

However, I know from personal experience - and from scanning thousands of ladies over the years - that 11 weeks (at best) can feel like a very long time to wait for reassurance - especially if you've suffered from miscarriages, struggled to conceive, or feel anxious for any reason.

I opened Sneak-A-Peek Ultrasound to give parents like you peace of mind whenever you feel like you need it, with a pregnancy scan that gives you time to relax, take it all in, and ask questions.

Feel free to read more about early pregnancy scans at Sneak-A-Peek or contact me if you have any specific questions.