Obstetric Ultrasound Examinations

  • Reference Number: HEY-968/2017
  • Departments: Maternity Services, Radiology


This leaflet has been produced to give you general information about your examination. Most of your questions should have been answered by this leaflet.  It is not intended to replace the discussion between you and your doctor. If after reading it you have any concerns or require further explanation, please discuss this with a member of the health care team caring for you.

What is an obstetric ultrasound examination?

It is an ultrasound scan performed during pregnancy to look in detail at the anatomy of your baby. Scans can be performed throughout pregnancy. In the first 12 week scans are performed to date your pregnancy. Scans are also offered at 12 weeks to measure the thickness at the back of your baby’s neck to help calculate the risk of serious genetic conditions. Between 18 weeks and 6 days to 21 weeks, a scan is performed to assess your baby’s anatomy to detect any serious condition or abnormality.

In some ladies, scans are required after 28 weeks if your baby is at risk of being too small when it is born. Other scans are performed throughout if a doctor or midwife has any concerns about the health and well-being of you or your baby. You will be asked to lie down on an examination couch in a darkened room. The person undertaking your scan will either be a sonographer or doctor and they will introduce themselves and explain the procedure before they start. There may be an Imaging Support Worker in the room as well. They are there to help you and the sonographer or doctor. You may ask them to leave if you would prefer not to be accompanied.

Occasionally, you may need to have an internal ultrasound scan. This is often performed if additional detail is required. This procedure will be explained to you and your consent will be obtained before any examination is performed. For your examination, your lower abdomen will need to be exposed. We advise you wear appropriate clothing so that you do not need to get undressed. Cool gel is placed on your abdomen and a probe is moved over the skin. Gentle pressure is required to obtain the best images. The images are displayed on a monitor which the sonographer or doctor looks at and interprets the findings. Once the examination is completed you will be given tissue to wipe away the gel. We can help you with this if you find it difficult.

Are ultrasound scans medical and clinical test?

All scans performed in pregnancy are undertaken for clinical reasons. They are either routine screening examinations looking for abnormalities or they are undertaken because there is a risk of a problem with either you or your baby. Scans are not performed for social reasons and we do provide scans to inform you of the sex of your baby. However, if you want to know the sex of your baby, the sonographer may be able to tell you at your 18 weeks and 6 day to 21 week anomaly scan. This does need the baby to be lying in the correct position and if it is not, we will be unable to tell you the sex of your baby. We do not perform a repeat scan if we are unable to provide you with this information.

Can anyone come with me for my scan?

All scans are detailed and sonographer or doctor performing the test requires their full concentration. Whilst we do appreciate that this is a special time for your family and you, we do need to be able to concentrate and not be distracted during these very important tests.  Therefore, we only allow one person into the scan room with you whilst the clinical scan is being undertaken. To avoid disappointment for your family and friends please do not bring more than one person with you for the scan as they will not be able to sit and watch the examination.

What can affect my ultrasound scan?

The use of a mobile phone can be very distracting and you are at risk of the sonographer or doctor not completing the examination correctly if they are disturbed. Therefore, the use of mobiles phones is not allowed within the scan rooms under any circumstances. Please do not be offended if the sonographer asks you or your partner to put your phones away before the examination starts. If you continue to use your mobile phone during the scan, the scan will be terminated and you will be asked to leave.

There are several factors that can affect the quality of your ultrasound scan. The position in which you baby is lying can affect how well the sonographer or doctor can see things. Sometimes they may ask you to go for a walk to try and get the baby to move and then repeat the scan.  Another factor that can affect the scan is your body size. Some ladies have a lot of body tissue or dense body tissue which absorbs the sound waves and reduces the detail of the baby. Some ladies do not have sufficient body tissue to create a good boundary between the probe and the baby.

In all of these cases the quality can be affected. To overcome this, the sonographer may book your scans a week later than usual, for example at 21 weeks for your anomaly scan. This is to ensure they get the best detail possible. Please do not be offended if your scan is delayed, we are trying to get the best possible view of your baby as we can.

Can I buy pictures of my scans?

Whilst all of the scans undertaken are for clinical and medical reasons, we do understand that this is a very special time for you and your family.  The images from the full scan are part of your medical records and are not for sale. However, the sonographer or doctor will take some images of your baby which will be suitable for a souvenir of your scan. These images will vary from patient to patient and the type of image the sonographer can produce can be affected by the way the baby is lying, the age of the baby, where your placenta is and your build.

The sonographer and doctor will try their best to produce the best images they can for you. A single printed image on thermal paper will be given to you at your 12 week scan. Additional digital copies of this can be purchased after the examination. At your 18 weeks & 6 days to 21 week anomaly scan the sonographer will take a selection of suitable images for you to choose from which will be available to purchase after the examination. You are under no obligation to buy these.

As your pregnancy progresses the detail of your baby can be more difficult to see to the untrained eye. Therefore, we do not take images for parents after the 18 weeks & 6 days to 21 week anomaly scan.

How can I buy pictures of my scans?

The images from your scan that the sonographer or doctor have taken are saved as digital pictures. The images are saved on a digital server and can only be accessed by you. We use a commercial partner website to store the images and we comply fully with data protection legislation to ensure your details are kept confidential. Following your 12 week scan or your 18 weeks and 6 days to 21 week anomaly scan you will be given a letter explaining how to access your pictures. The letter contains a unique code which you will need to enter to view your pictures.

The images will be available on the website to view or buy for up to 6 months after the scan. Once you have viewed your pictures you can decide which pictures you would like to purchase and follow instructions on the website as to how to download them. Once purchased, you can download each picture to as many digital devices, phones or computers as you like. If you do not have access to digital devices but would like paper copies of your pictures please speak to the sonographer or doctor undertaking your scan.

There will be charge for all pictures. The funds received from the selling of images, undertaken in the ultrasound department are used for staff training and education, purchasing up to date ultrasound equipment and to improve the environment for patients accessing our service.

Do you have trainees in the department?

Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is a teaching hospital and training in ultrasound scanning is supported. A trainee may undertake you examination but they will be supervised and the scan will be checked by a qualified sonographer or doctor before you leave the department.

Consent to treatment

Before any doctor or sonographer examines you, they must seek your consent or permission. In order to make a decision, you need to have information from health professionals about the investigation which is being offered to you.

You should always ask them more questions if you don’t understand or if you want more information.

For the ultrasound examination you will be given verbal information and after having time to ask questions, you will be asked to give verbal consent for the scan. What is important is that your consent is genuine or valid. That means:

  • you must be able to give your consent
  • you must be given enough information to enable you to make a decision
  • you must be acting under your own free will and not under the strong influence of another person

How much do I need to know?

Some people want to know as much as possible about their diagnostic tests others prefer to leave decisions to the experts. No one providing healthcare will force information on you, for example, about the risks of treatment if you don’t want to know. But remember, the person in the best position to know what matters most is you. Only you can know what is most important.

Should you require further advice on the issues contained in this leaflet, please contact the Ultrasound Department on: (01482) 607848

General Advice and Consent

Most of your questions should have been answered by this leaflet, but remember that this is only a starting point for discussion with the healthcare team.

Consent to treatment

Before any doctor, nurse or therapist examines or treats you, they must seek your consent or permission. In order to make a decision, you need to have information from health professionals about the treatment or investigation which is being offered to you. You should always ask them more questions if you do not understand or if you want more information.

The information you receive should be about your condition, the alternatives available to you, and whether it carries risks as well as the benefits. What is important is that your consent is genuine or valid. That means:

  • you must be able to give your consent
  • you must be given enough information to enable you to make a decision
  • you must be acting under your own free will and not under the strong influence of another person

Information about you

We collect and use your information to provide you with care and treatment. As part of your care, information about you will be shared between members of a healthcare team, some of whom you may not meet. Your information may also be used to help train staff, to check the quality of our care, to manage and plan the health service, and to help with research. Wherever possible we use anonymous data.

We may pass on relevant information to other health organisations that provide you with care. All information is treated as strictly confidential and is not given to anyone who does not need it. If you have any concerns please ask your doctor, or the person caring for you.

Under the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018 we are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of any information we hold about you. For further information visit the following page: Confidential Information about You.

If you or your carer needs information about your health and wellbeing and about your care and treatment in a different format, such as large print, braille or audio, due to disability, impairment or sensory loss, please advise a member of staff and this can be arranged.