12:50 03 June 2009
As part of your antenatal care, you'll be offered a range of checks, tests and assessments, to monitor you and your baby.
This article also appears on www.bbc.co.uk/parenting/having_a_baby
Your first antenatal check-up is likely to be the longest. It will take place between the eighth and twelfth weeks of pregnancy, and you will be examined by a doctor and a midwife. You may also be offered a chance to see your baby for the first time on an ultrasound scan.
If you are working, you are legally allowed time off with pay for your antenatal care.
It's helpful to know exactly what the professionals are looking for, to know what the implications might be, if a problem shows up, and to know where and how you will get the results.
The technology that produces ultrasound scans is developing all the time. It uses high-frequency soundwaves, which 'bounce off' solid objects. This can then create an image on the screen of your uterus and nearby organs, the placenta, plus your baby and its organs.
Scans can be two-dimensional, three-dimensional (which gives more clarity, and allows easier diagnosis of anomalies like a cleft palate) or there's even a four-dimensional scan (available privately).
This may differ according to local policies, and your own needs.
Ask your carers what your options are, and what they are looking for each time.
You might be offered a scan at any of these following times.
To confirm/date the pregnancy; to see if the pregnancy is ectopic (in the fallopian tubes, and not the uterus); to check the fetus is alive by looking for the baby's heartbeat.
To confirm/date the pregnancy; to check for twins or more; if it's offered alongside a nuchal scan, which looks specifically at the pad of skin at the back of your baby's neck, this can help assess the risk of the baby having Down's syndrome or other chromosomal conditions.
To check for spina bifida and other possible abnormalities; to look in detail at the major organs and the skeleton; to check the health of your placenta; and check the rate of your baby's growth.
To monitor the growth of your baby; check the position of the placenta; and check the position of your baby.
Q. Can they tell the sex?
A. It may be possible to tell from about mid-pregnancy, if it's being looked for. But remember it's not always 100 percent reliable. You might be asked if you want to know, so say if you do. Say "no" if you don't, of course. Some hospitals, however, have a policy of not telling. Remember, it's not 100 percent reliable so don't go painting your nursery on the basis of a scan!
Most women see their family doctor to arrange for their antenatal care, but if you prefer, you can book directly with a community midwife.
In early pregnancy, you'll be asked to drink lots of water which will help your bladder push the uterus upwards, for a better picture. Early dating scans may be done internally. If this is the case you won't need to fill up with water as the internal scan-head rests against the uterus and doesn't need the 'window' made by a full bladder which is required for an external scan.
You lie down, and are attended to by the operator (usually a sonographer or a radiographer, who is a technician, not a doctor or a midwife). Your tummy is exposed, and gel is spread on it. A hand-held transducer is rolled over your tummy. Images are then transmited to a screen. This image can be printed out for you and a copy kept with your notes (you may have to pay for this). Some scans can be put onto a videotape or a CD.
Q. Are scans safe?
A. The overwhelming consensus is that they are, but recent research indicates that scanned babies are more likely to be left-handed, so maybe there are subtle effects on the brain.
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