If you’ve recently received a positive pregnancy test, one of your first questions may be when to expect an ultrasound.
Since it’s the first time you see and hear your baby, you may be anxious and excited for the moment. It’s also when you get to take home the sonograph photo you’ll cherish for a lifetime!
When your doctor suggests your first scan depends on a few factors.
In this guide, we’ll go over when to expect during your first ultrasound in pregnancy. We’ll also touch on different ultrasound types and what you can expect during each.
What Is an Ultrasound?
Ultrasounds help a doctor see how your baby is growing by showing them an image of your baby and detecting their heartbeat. These scans can help ensure everything is going as planned. Or, it can help detect problems and diagnose issues.
Ultrasounds can be ordered by your doctor and carried out by a technician. From this scan, your doctor can interpret the results. Some doctors conduct the ultrasound themselves.
You’re probably most familiar with transabdominal ultrasound. It involves ultrasound gel and a probe being placed on the stomach. After the technician detects the baby, an image appears on the monitor.
Although you might get a typical ultrasound, transvaginal ultrasounds are common during the first trimester. This type of scan involves a lubricated probe being inserted into the vagina. Using ultrasound technology, an image appears on the monitor.
Purpose of First Ultrasound for Pregnant Mothers
Your doctor may use an ultrasound scan in the first trimester for a variety of reasons.
In general, your first ultrasound in pregnancy is used to:
- Tell how far along you are and estimate a due date
- Determine if there’s more than one baby
- Measure the size of your baby
- Track the growth of your baby
- Detect any physical abnormalities
- Help your doctor investigate any concerns
When’s the First Ultrasound During Pregnancy?
If you just figured out you’re expecting, you’re probably wondering, “when’s the first ultrasound during pregnancy?” And when can you finally get that sonogram photo?
When your first ultrasound is depends on your pregnancy and your doctor’s advice. In general, it’s normal for your first ultrasound to take place from 6-13 weeks. Some doctors will suggest an early ultrasound while others will recommend the first one a few weeks later.
You may get either ultrasound below in the first trimester.
Early Ultrasound: First Ultrasound 8 Weeks
An early ultrasound can be as early as 6 weeks. This is around when you can begin to detect a heartbeat using an ultrasound machine. Your doctor may recommend it if you have a high-risk pregnancy. More commonly, an early first ultrasound happens at 8 or 9 weeks. During this appointment, your doctor will estimate your due date and check your baby’s heartbeat.
Although your doctor may order an early ultrasound even if you’re not high risk, they aren’t considered routine. Many doctors wait for the dating ultrasound.
Dating Ultrasound: First Ultrasound 10 to 13 Weeks
If you didn’t get an early ultrasound, your doctor will order a dating ultrasound a few weeks later, typically between 10 and 13 weeks of pregnancy. Dating ultrasounds are considered routine whereas early ultrasounds are not.
A dating ultrasound serves the same purposes as an early ultrasound. Your doctor will detect a heartbeat and estimate your baby’s due date. You’ll also receive your sonogram photo.
Nuchal Translucency Scan (Optional)
Apart from a normal first-trimester ultrasound, some women are eligible for another type of exam called a nuchal translucency (NT) scan. This ultrasound detects your baby’s chance of have Down syndrome (DS) and other conditions or defects. This test is typically suggested to pregnant people aged 35 and over or with a history of birth defects.
Although this test isn’t definitive, it’s accurate the majority of the time. Out of 100 fetuses, it correctly finds Down syndrome in 64-70 cases. An NT scan combined with blood tests increases the accuracy. Using both methods, a doctor can correctly diagnose Down Syndrome in 82 to 87 out of 100 fetuses.
Whether you have this test is a personal choice. Before proceeding, many parents think about how the results would affect their choices. Your doctor can let you know about your prenatal genetic screening options. Alternatively, you can also talk to a genetic counselor.
You’ll typically only receive one prenatal ultrasound in your first trimester and two more in your upcoming trimesters. Between ultrasound appointments, your doctor may use a fetal doppler for regular in-person check-ups (more on this later in the article).
What to Expect During First Ultrasound
If it’s your first time being pregnant, you probably have a few questions about what your first pregnancy ultrasound will look like. That depends on whether you’re getting a transabdominal or transvaginal ultrasound. Either may be done by your doctor at their office or by a technician at a center or hospital.
An early first ultrasound in pregnancy will likely be conducted by a transvaginal probe. Here’s what the process may look like:
- Change into hospital gown
- Technician or doctor will explain the procedure
- You’ll be guided to position yourself on the exam table on your back with your legs raised
- The technician will lubricate the probe. It’s larger than a tampon but smaller than the speculum you might have seen during pelvic exams
- Sound waves pass through the skin and create echoes, which are reflected back to the probe
- Monitor shows image of your fetus
Transabdominal ultrasounds are the type people are most familiar with. Here’s what the process may look like:
- Change into hospital gown
- Technician or doctor will explain procedure
- Technician will ask you to lay down and apply ultrasound gel
- A small wand will move through the gel, sending sound waves which bounce back to the probe
- Monitor shows fetus
If a technician does your ultrasound, they will pass the scans onto your doctor for evaluation. If your doctor does the exam, they will be able to give you results immediately.
Your doctor will use the scans to make sure the pregnancy is viable (ie. not an ectopic pregnancy). They will also look for signs that your baby is developing normally by measuring their size. You’ll also learn how far along you are, which will give you an estimated due date.
Doctor’s Fetal Doppler Device
Regardless of which week you had your first ultrasound, you can expect to hear your baby several times more before birth. Even before your second ultrasound, your doctor may use a similar device in their office.
During your regular prenatal check-ups, sometimes a fetal doppler is used to listen to your baby’s heartbeat. These small devices use ultrasound technology but don’t require a machine, so they can be commonly used during appointments.
Similar to an ultrasound, your doctor may ask you to lay on the table and expose your abdomen. After applying ultrasound gel, they’ll glide the probe over your stomach to detect a heartbeat. They’ll listen to the beat and evaluate the fetal heart rate (FHR) to see if it’s normal.
At-Home Fetal Doppler For Between Appointments
Similar to how your doctor uses a fetal doppler in their office, you can get an affordable at-home version.
Keep in mind that only trained professionals can use a fetal doppler to diagnose problems. And, the devices are not a replacement for your prenatal appointments. However, they can be fun to use between check-ups as a bonding experience.
Fetal dopplers can also provide reassurance to mothers who are constantly worried about their babies. Since you can’t detect problems yourself, you can also record the heartbeat to share with your doctor or midwife for their advice.
To learn more about how parents use fetal dopplers at home, read our guide or watch the video.
Summary: First Ultrasound In Pregnancy
Your first ultrasound in pregnancy usually happens before 14 weeks. An early first ultrasound might be recommended for high-risk pregnancies, such as people 35 and older. This can take place from 6 to 9 weeks. Most commonly, women receive a dating ultrasound around 10 to 14 weeks. Both early and dating ultrasounds will tell if the pregnancy is viable and give the doctor an estimated due date.
Your technician may conduct a transabdominal ultrasound; however, transvaginal ultrasounds are common. Although you only get a few ultrasound appointments during your pregnancy, your doctor will also use a fetal doppler between scans. This is another tool to help them assess your baby’s development and diagnose problems if necessary.
P.S. Have you heard your baby at home yet? Starting at 12 weeks you can use a fetal doppler. Similar to an ultrasound, you can listen to your baby!