What to expect from your first trimester scan

If you have reached the end of your first trimester, how exciting! For some women, this means the end of that ghastly morning sickness and exhaustion and the start of feeling better, a growing bump and more excitement in the family as these changes happen. Many couples decide to have the 12 week scan, it is not in any way compulsory, but it is generally a magical experience and a great excuse to see your baby growing and moving inside of you! Especially since you can’t feel baby moving just yet, but you will soon enough.

Many couples prefer to wait until after this scan to tell friends and family, understandably so, because you want to know that everything is going well before you tell everyone. Some people tell people as soon as they find out they are pregnant and others even wait until their 20 week scan. It’s completely up to you. We told many family members and close friends before 12 weeks because we value a supportive community, to celebrate the joy of being pregnant and have a support network if anything went wrong. After the results of our scan, we would then plan to tell our wider family and friends.

What happens at the 12 week scan:

Where we went for our scans, such an amazing place!

When you arrive, you are asked many questions about your health and any congenital problems in your family, from siblings, parents up to your first cousins. This helps the sonographer get a good idea of your potential risk for certain congenital defects or disorders. So it helps to ask your family about their history if you can, this includes your aunts and uncles’ pregnancies! He or she might also ask you whether or not you want to know the gender of your baby, so make sure you talk to your partner about this so you are prepared to answer and avoid any awkward arguments in the consultation room. We decided to keep it a secret. You can always say no and change your mind at any point, but if you say yes and they tell you, then there is no going back! It’s such a personal decision, and whatever you decide, you will generally only find out after 16 weeks, but sometimes they can detect gender this early, if it’s blatantly obvious.

After the questions, you will have time to ask the sonographer any questions you may have. I didn’t have any, so we went on to the next step. I was asked to lie down on the bed and expose my belly. This is generally the first time they can do a trans-abdominal scan, which is more relaxing than an internal trans-vaginal scan. You will get a big blob of gel put onto your belly and the ultrasound probe is moved around, normally pressed down until the sonographer finds your uterus and baby. I was quite surprised that the probe was so high up, I thought it would be much closer to my pubic bone, but it was about midway between my belly button and my pubic bone.

Cue happy joyful moment, when you see your baby! It might be awake and moving around or sleeping quietly. It looks much more human at this stage, with little arms and legs, you can make out facial features and see many organs such as the heart, lungs, brain, spinal cord, stomach and many more!

The sonographer will generally work from head to toe, depending on the cooperative positions of your baby, assessing as they go along. Don’t worry, they will explain everything to you and you can ask questions along the way. They do measurements of the skull, the long bones of the arms and legs, count the fingers, observe the facial structure and spinal cord, and assess the circulation and functionality of the heart, the umbilical cord and placenta as well as the circulation to your uterus. Your sonographer will also tell you the position of your placenta, either posterior (at the back), anterior (at the front) and whether it is high lying or low lying. This is important in determining if you have placenta privea, a condition where the placenta lies over the cervix, which causes complications at birth. So it’s good to know these things to give your obstetrician a better idea of management going forward.

You will also have a time to just simply observe your baby, moving around, doing all kinds of cute things. Mine was pouting, holding it’s own hands, putting hands to the mouth, kicking and turning around, and even did a somersault at one stage. Nothing can prepare you for the joy of seeing a healthy and thriving baby. For me, to know that just a few weeks ago, it was just one cell that divided and somehow turned into a tiny human, swallowing, moving and growing is incredible. We were designed and created by someone far greater than we can ever imagine. I couldn’t help but feel closer to my creator in that moment.

At the end of the appointment, your sonographer will put in some of the more important measurements onto the system, and be able to give you a risk ratio for your baby having certain conditions. This includes Down’s Sydrome and a few other genetic disorders. This is just a ratio, and not in any way diagnostic, but it will give you a good idea of what to expect. And depending on the results, you can then decide to do further tests later on. Our baby had an extremely low risk of these conditions, and we wouldn’t do any further tests anyway because it wouldn’t change anything, we’ll love the person that comes out just as much. Although I must say, for some people it is good to know so that you can feel more prepared for life after birth, but again, that’s a personal decision.

Your blood pressure will also be checked an you’ll also be given a risk ratio for pre-clampsia. Again, this depends on your weight, height, blood pressure and blood test results, and all pregnant women have a risk to getting high blood pressure during their pregnancy, but some are more at risk than others and it’s good to know this to be more prepared. In the end, your health is the priority because a healthy mom makes it easier to have a healthy baby, carried to term.

Helpful hints:

It helps to not be stressed out during your scan, you might end up stressing yourself out so much that you can’t actually enjoy it. Whatever helps you feel less stressed, do it. Meditate, talk to someone, listen to music, pray, eat chocolate.

Take someone along. Preferably your partner, if that’s not possible then someone you’re close to that you trust. It will make a huge difference to you to have someone by your side. My husband couldn’t join me unfortunately so I asked my sister-in-law to come with me and her calm nature calmed me down, and her joy increased mine even more.

Before the scan, find out whether the pictures and videos are part of the price or if you have to pay extra for them. Mine were part of the deal, so I got them straight after. If you do have to pay for them, it won’t be much, and it’s so worth keeping!

I also came to realise how important scans are during pregnancy. There are such high rates of post-natal depression all over the world, and I think a key thing here is to find a way to connect and bond with your baby,even before it is born. This is why going for your scans are so necessary, apart from finding out the growth and health of your baby, you get a chance to bond with your baby, so see it that way, and try orientate yourself for that purpose.

Phone your medical aid and find out whether they cover this scan. It’s good to get an idea of they cover and what you might need to pay for. My medical aid, Momentum, do not pay for the 12 week scan, but for the 20 week anomaly scan and another growth scan after 24 weeks. I had to pay for this scan, but we were okay with that, and we do have a health saver’s account, which will reimburse us for things like this should we send in the claim. Many places like the Fetal Assessment Unit, and your Obstetrician work independently from medical aid, so you will have to pay them in cash on the day of your appointment and then claim back from your medical aid. Admin. Bleh.


Overall, it was a wonderful experience, and I feel more confident about my pregnancy and I cannot wait for my next scan! It was so amazing to share the news with my husband, and like a proud dad he showed all his friends how cute and healthy his baby was.

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