We have all had the awkward moment where your gushing friend waves an ultrasound image around and you have to be excited about a grey, shadowy outline. However, seeing the first image of your child is a unique moment and in no time you’ll be showing it to everyone possible. The natural parental bias means you can easily see the special little human in the image!
There is lots of advice online about how to read ultrascan images and it is highly recommended that you consult the scanning technician (sonographer) rather than trying to read it all yourself.
So instead of repeating this prescription information, we discuss the more controversial questions around scanning. Whatever you choose, knowing all the options will ensure you have made the decision that is right for you.
When Do I have My baby Scans?
First, a quick summary for first time parents. Ultrasounds are used to see a picture of the baby in the womb giving the opportunity for parents to see their child for the first time and allowing the sonographer to check that everything is developing healthily. Pregnant women are offered at least two ultrascans during their pregnancy between 8 to 14 weeks and then between 18 to 21 weeks. The first scan estimates when the baby is due and the second focuses on picking up anomalies in the baby.
There are various decisions to make at every stage and with an increase in private alternatives with all kinds of added features it can seem a bit overwhelming. So here we talk you through what to consider.
To scan or not to scan
It seems we have become so familiar with seeing ultrasound images that it is easy to forget that you do not have to have any scans at all if that’s what you wish. It might be a controversial decision, particularly when by week 20 you are expected to know everything about your child. However, some parents do not feel comfortable with having a scan. Even if seeing the shadowy image of your child for the first time is the highlight of your pregnancy, it is still a good idea to think through what is coming up. Ultrasounds are generally very exciting events but they can produce results that lead to bigger decisions and you should prepare for this possibility.
As far as the medical community is aware, having a scan does not cause any harm to you or your baby. It is also a painless process for the mother. However, if there are potential problems you may be offered other tests that have higher risks. Your maternity team will discuss the details of your case and the risks involved, which can sometimes include miscarriage. In other situations, you would just be advised and supported in hearing about a potential issue which needs no further action until birth.
Whatever happens, it is a good idea to be prepared for the possibility that scan results can have many repercussions. Some parents would prefer to wait until birth to find out the health of their child. Remember this is a normal hospital investigation. It is highly unlikely you will get bad news but make sure you only bring people who you would want by you if the situation did arise.
If you have any doubts or more questions chat it through with your maternity team and decide what is best for you.
Learning The Sex of Your Baby (good or bad?)
Another big decision that modern technology has brought to parents is whether to find out the gender of your child before it is born. Despite popular conception, you should be aware that the results are not always accurate as the position of the child in the womb can sometimes obscure areas that are vital to identifying the gender.
It seems to be more common for parents to find out especially if they want to design the nursery or decide on the baby’s name. However, there is definitely a strong party who do not want to know. For many this is because they want the surprise or to experience the moment as it has been felt throughout human history.
Traditionally, in the past many people wanted to prepare the nursery or wardrobe of their child in ‘suitable’ colours. However, this is no longer expected and many parents embrace the opportunity to have a gender neutral attitude from the very start.
Whatever you choose, you will come across many like-minded people. Plus, it is all exciting and whether you know the gender of your child or not it is going to be one of the most exciting days of your life when you are handed your child for the first time.
What Is The Difference Between 3d And 4d Ultrasound?
More and more parents are paying for 3D and 4D scans. The first question should perhaps be one of cost. Pregnancy is an expensive business and do you want to spend extra on having more scans? Priorities and bank account sizes will be different for everyone so this is definitely an area you want to consider without too much influence from well-meaning friends or fellow parents.
The main reason people go for 3D and 4D scans is that it gives a much clearer view of the unborn baby. Even the standard grey, blurry images can be the highlight of some people’s pregnancy so it can be a wonderful opportunity to assess every trait of your child before they have been born. It also avoids the inevitable moment when people insist they can make out the details of the child while holding the scan upside down!
However, 3D scans only work if your baby is facing the right way and are done at 26 to 30 weeks of pregnancy. If there is a medical concern about the child 3D scans will sometimes be offered.
Promoters of 4D scanning would also say that 3D scans only provide static images of the child. 4D scans show real time footage of the baby moving around giving a very detailed view of the child’s features and movements in the womb. 4D scans also check the baby’s growth and internal organs.
It is also believed that 3D and 4D scans do not cause any harm but some groups are concerned that these types of scans are only promoted by the ‘souvenir’ element of getting pictures of your child. To ensure there is no harm it is important that the sonographer follows professional guidelines and is qualified to correctly interpret the images so make sure you use legitimate practices. You can get recommendations from other parents or health care professionals.
Some parents love the clear images and video you can get from these scans and especially value it if they have distant family or friends who cannot be around for the pregnancy and birth. In some cases, it could help pick-up issues but the standard 2D scans will do this adequately. For others, the excitement comes from seeing the baby’s features for the first time when they are born. With everything else guzzling up the baby budget it might not be for you. Or it might be a special treat where you can sit back from all the decision-making and enjoy the miracle of seeing your child’s face and how they already wriggle around.
Having Private Pregnancy Scans
Finally, there is the decision of whether to go private either for the traditional dating and anomaly scan or to have other scans throughout the pregnancy. A quick search through internet forums shows a very split attitude with some parents swearing by the wonders of private services and others as equally adamant about the benefits of only getting scans offered by the NHS.
Some people argue that having a private scan is more likely to identify medical issues. However, the NHS carefully check through a long list of vital criteria so you should be confident that they will pick anything up. Private services offer scans throughout every stage of pregnancy so they may pick up issues at a different rate or stage. As discussed above, some scans such as 3D/ 4D will show your child in far more detail.
The other main factor contributing to people choosing private is the privacy and sense of service that not everyone experiences with the NHS. However, everyone’s experience of any clinic or hospital will be different as staff and set-up always changes. You will find parents describing the service as perfect in normal public check-ups and others saying the same about their experience at private practices.
Of course, going private for whatever reason comes with a huge invoice. Private scans are expensive and not necessary on top of scans provided by the NHS. Nonetheless, some parents will jump at any opportunity to see their child more or to triple check the health of their baby. The decision is yours.
It can be frustrating to be looking for answers and to only find more questions. I encourage you to see it as an exciting opportunity to review what is important for you. The nice thing about decisions around scans is that there is only a tiny possibility that your choice will have a negative impact. Ultimately, it is your preferences that are important. So get a cup of tea and sit down with your partner or a close friend and consider your feelings on the subject and your budget and you might be pleasantly pleased to find that you already know the answer to many of the questions after all.