What to expect at your 12-week nuchal translucency scan

Everyone’s experience of pregnancy is different, but at around 12 weeks’ you might find you’re experiencing fewer of the unpleasant symptoms of early pregnancy such as fatigue, bloating and morning sickness. Unless you’ve had an early pregnancy scan, this is also the time when you might have your first scan, commonly known as the 12-week pregnancy ultrasound, or nuchal translucency scan.

During this visit your sonographer will be able to examine various aspects of your pregnancy, from how everything is progressing, to whether you are carrying one baby, or more. Here we look at what to expect during your visit, the things you can hope to learn from this scan, and the further tests you might choose to have following this scan.  


Is the nuchal scan always done at 12 weeks’ pregnancy?

12 weeks is a benchmark, but the nuchal scan can be done at any time between 11 and 14 weeks of pregnancy. During your appointment, your sonographer will carry out a thorough assessment to confirm the viability of your pregnancy. This involves checking the development of your baby's anatomy, where your sonographer will also take measurements. Additionally, they’ll look out for early signs of abnormalities or indications of the possibility of conditions such as Down’s syndrome, and congenital heart defects.


What happens during an appointment?

Your appointment will be scheduled for 30 minutes to allow plenty of time for the ultrasound scan itself, and to give ample opportunity for you to ask the sonographer any questions.

At this stage of pregnancy your sonographer will perform the scan abdominally, which makes for easier movement of the probe than a transvaginal scan when examining your developing foetus. To ensure you’re as comfortable as possible during the scan, you may be asked to empty your bladder beforehand. Once you’re in the examination chair, your sonographer will move a probe over your abdomen to get a detailed look at your baby’s anatomy – including organs and the placenta. They will also take images as they go.

During this scan your sonographer will also take a nuchal translucency measurement, to assess the amount of fluid at the back of your baby’s neck. This can play an important role in assessing the possibility of your child having Down’s syndrome.


What is the sonographer looking for?

During the scan, your sonographer will talk you through their findings, and offer you a detailed explanation of what they’re seeing, as they see it. If they identify any risk of your baby having certain conditions, you will be invited to have further scans and blood tests. The results of the scan will be combined with information such as your age and blood test results, which can measure specific proteins in your bloodstream.


Can the nuchal scan identify the eventuality of Down’s Syndrome?

If at your 12-week scan the nuchal translucency measurement is not within the ‘normal’ range, your sonographer might suggest a blood test to measure the levels of certain hormones in your bloodstream. While the scan alone offers valuable insights, combining it with the blood test significantly improves accuracy, ensuring a more thorough evaluation, and an indication of the probability of having a child with Down’s syndrome.


When will you next be scanned?

If your sonographer is happy with everything and there’s nothing to investigate further, your next scan will typically be scheduled for around 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The 20-week ultrasound scan, sometimes called the anomaly scan, can be carried out any time between 18 and 24 weeks, and gives you the opportunity to see images of your baby in 3D and 4D.

Although this 20-week scan cannot pick up all possible conditions, it can very occasionally pick up abnormalities related to chromosome disorders that might have not been identified in the 12-week scan. However, non-invasive prenatal testing, which you can have at an earlier date, make finding ‘new’ abnormalities during your 20-week scan less common.


What happens if further tests are needed?

In the event that your sonographer identifies a higher risk of abnormal development in your pregnancy, they will be able to offer expert guidance and support around next steps. After giving you the context of the findings they can discuss further scans, testing options and blood tests that might be beneficial. Non-invasive prenatal testing includes the MaterniT21 PLUS Test and Illumina Prenatal Test, that can offer a more accurate assessment of genetic abnormalities, providing you with valuable information on managing your pregnancy in a way that feels right for you.


Book Your 12-Week Nuchal Translucency Pregnancy Scan

If you would like to visit our clinic for an early pregnancy scan, please call 020 7244 4200 or make an appointment online.