How Early Can You See a Baby on a Scan?
You can have an early pregnancy scan from just 7 weeks, but what you see on the screen might not look much like what you’re expecting. Your baby still has a long way to go before he or she is born.

Early Pregnancy Scan

When Can You Have an Ultrasound Scan?

The earliest pregnancy scans are usually offered from just 7 weeks. We are already able to get pictures of your baby through an abdominal ultrasound at this early stage of pregnancy. The ultrasound probe is simply moved across your belly to create pictures of your baby.

In rare cases, your doctor might recommend a scan before 7 weeks if you have symptoms such as pain on one side of your belly. The scan won’t be able to see much and will need to be performed trans-vaginally, but we will be able to tell where the pregnancy is located. We can therefore check to see if it is an ectopic pregnancy, which means the embryo has implanted outside the womb. If this happens, then it won’t be possible to continue with the pregnancy and you will need treatment right away. We can also check for other possible causes of your symptoms, such as ovarian cysts or fibroids.

What Will You See at an Early Scan?

An early pregnancy scan won’t create the same kind of pictures as your later ultrasounds because your baby is still so small. You should be able to see where the embryo is growing in your womb and you’ll get some pictures of the tiny, bean-like baby. Your sonographer will be able to learn a lot from these images. We can use an early scan to confirm viability and to date your pregnancy. We usually recommend having the scan at 7 weeks because this means we will be able to see and listen to the heart.

Babies develop incredibly fast in the early weeks of pregnancy, so what you will see will depend on exactly when you have the scan.

  • 5 weeks: your sonographer may be able to see a small, hollow pregnancy sac

  • 6 weeks: the yolk sac that will support your baby until the placenta grows will be visible, it might be possible to pick out the tiny foetus

  • 7 weeks: the embryo is about 1cm long and already has a beating heart, but it won’t look much like a baby yet

  • 8 weeks: the embryo is 1.6cm long and is starting to change shape, with two rounded areas that will develop into the head and body

  • 9 weeks: this is when the embryo officially becomes a foetus, it’s also the first time you’ll have a chance to distinguish the head, body and limbs on a scan. However, your baby still has a long way to go so you should expect to see lots of changes by your next scan.

What We Can Learn at an Early Ultrasound?

An early scan enables us to check that all is well with your pregnancy. We can tell how long you’ve been pregnant and check on your baby’s heart and development. You’ll get to see your baby on the screen and we’ll email you a link so you can look back at the pictures and videos at any time. If you’ve been trying for a while or you’re having the scan because you’re worried about symptoms like spotting, then just getting the confirmation that your baby is there can be overwhelming.
It’s also important to remember that your sonographer can get a lot of information from the pictures on the screen. Even if your baby is still just a tiny ball of cells, the sonographer can still check that your pregnancy is progressing as expected. During an early scan we’ll be able to:
  • Confirm that you are pregnant

  • Make sure that the embryo is implanted properly in the womb (to rule out an ectopic pregnancy)

  • Check how many babies you’re carrying

  • Measure the size of the pregnancy sac to work out how long you’ve been pregnant

  • Check for any problems, such as internal bleeding

In addition to getting some important information about your baby’s health, there is one more check that can be particularly emotional for you. The baby’s heartbeat can be picked up by ultrasound from around 7 weeks so you will actually be able to listen to it during the scan.

When Will You Be Able to Recognise What You’re Seeing?

If you have a scan before 7 weeks, you won’t be able to see much at all. The pregnancy will show up, but you’re not going to get a recognisable shot of your baby to show your friends and family. So how soon can you actually see something that you can actually recognise?

We recommend having your early scan at 7 weeks because you’ll be able to see your baby on the screen. We’ll also be able to perform more health checks at this stage because we can check the heart.

The earliest scan that’s going to look something like a baby would be at around 9 weeks. The foetus has developed its head, body and limbs by this stage so it is beginning to look like a baby. You might need a little help from the sonographer to interpret the picture, but you should be able to understand what you’re looking at. The foetus is still very small so you won’t be able to see any of the more delicate features, but your baby already has tiny hands, fingers, eyes and a nose.

When you have later scans, you will be able to see these features a lot more clearly. In just another week or two you should it much easier to recognise your baby on the screen. By the time you have your nuchal scan at 11 weeks 5 days to 13 weeks 5 days, it should be very clear that you are looking at a baby.

However, scan pictures aren’t always easy to interpret, even when they‘re done much later on. It’s actually pretty easy to mistake an arm for a leg or even to struggle to tell where your baby is in the picture. Don’t be afraid to ask your sonographer to explain the picture to you.

Did you find it easy to recognise your baby at your first ultrasound scan?  

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