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Everything You Want to Know on the 20-Week Anatomy Scan

Everything You Want to Know on the 20-Week Anatomy Scan

The exciting news is ringing as you are just over the hump of halfway through your pregnancy. After experiencing so much change to your body and mood, this can come as a huge relief. But then some women start to get a little panicked about the 20-week anatomy scan, and that’s just because they are unfamiliar with what it is. 

No need to be intimated! This is one of your routine checkups that will make sure everything is still going great, and you can be rest assured all is well. Let’s talk a little more about what it entails and what you can expect from your doctor. 

What is the 20-week Anatomy Scan?

What is the 20-week Anatomy Scan?

The 20-week anatomy scan sounds a little scary, which is why a lot of women also refer to it as the 20-week ultrasound. That’s a concept we are all familiar with, and that is essentially what this particular scan is. 

What’s different about this ultrasound and others is that it takes a closer look at you and the baby using high-frequency waves. When you first got still pictures of the baby, this will be an upgrade, providing you with a live image of the baby and its surroundings. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the image will be really clear, it can still be fuzzy for all sorts of reasons. 

Through this imaging, a load of measurements will be taken for the baby or babies and some for the mother. This is to ensure everyone’s utmost health and safety at this time during the pregnancy. 

What Measurements Are Taken During the Anatomy Scan?

With this specific appointment, you can be sure that a ton of measurements will be taken. One of the absolute best measurements that you will get to experience is your baby’s heartbeat. With the proper amount of amniotic fluid at this stage in time and an umbilical cord that is not interfering with the baby, likely the baby’s heartbeat will function just fine. 

Other measurements that are taken at this time include:

  • Stomach
  • Kidneys
  • Heart
  • Brain
  • Bladder
  • Genitals
  • Diaphragm
  • Face
  • Arms
  • Legs
  • Chest
  • Feet
  • Hands

You name it and it’s on the sheet. You may be thinking that this is a lot. But this is the perfect time to take a good look at the baby’s development and come up with a baseline to check on throughout the rest of the pregnancy. 

Importance of the Anatomy Scan

Importance of the Anatomy Scan

The 20-week anatomy scan is an important milestone during your pregnancy that serves a lot of functions. Besides giving a baseline on the baby’s development and growth for future reference, it also will help detect any abnormalities if there are any present. More excitingly, this scan and ultrasound can also help identify the sex of the baby if the parents want to know.

Let’s go a little more in-depth about the importance of each function.

Detecting Abnormalities 

The main purpose of the 20-week anatomy scan is to look for abnormalities that pose a risk to the mother or the baby. Two of the major genetic abnormalities that are searched for in this process are Down Syndrome and Trisomy 18. Because the baby is more developed, it is a lot easier to physically see as well as use a combination of blood work to detect anything. 

In the list above, you can also see that nearly everything about the baby is checked out. The organs are also looked at, including the four chambers of the baby’s heart. The reason being is that Congenital Heart Defects are the most common abnormalities doctors find and are also the number one leading cause of infant death. This is why it is important for doctors to have a thorough exam to rule out or become aware of any potential issues. 

While those are the main points of research, other things like the spine, kidneys and other areas are looked over to rule anything else out.

Identifying the Sex

Parents all have a very different approach to whether or not they want to identify the sex of the baby. Some couple’s goals in life are to throw big gender reveal parties, while others don’t want to know until the delivery day. One of the great benefits, should a parent or parents want to know the sex of their child, is being able to find out during this appointment. 

The ultrasound should be able to detect when the baby is a girl or boy based on the high-frequency ultrasound. As long as the baby’s position cooperates, it’s not a problem. If the baby is hiding visibility from their genitalia, it becomes a little more difficult. 

If you are not interested in knowing the sex of your baby right there, and then, it is super important to let the technician and doctor know at the very beginning of the appointment. They may say something early on and ruin the surprise otherwise. 

Preparing for the Anatomy Scan

Preparing for the Anatomy Scan

Now that you really understand what the anatomy scan entails, you are probably wondering how to best prepare for it. This is something your doctor likely already gave you a heads-up on, but just in case you need some reminders, here are the best tips and pointers about being ready for the scan/ultrasound. 

  1. This is a very comprehensive appointment, so the first thing in preparation is just to understand you may be there for a long time. Likely this will be minimally an hour of your time, and sometimes more depending on how the scan is going. More time doesn’t necessarily mean bad news, so there is no need to panic there. The baby may just not be in a good position, making things a little slower. 
  2. You may not just be laying there. If the above happens where the baby is hiding the point of interest that the doctor needs to see, then you may have to alter some of your positions or use some methods to get the baby to move on their own. 
  3. If you have twins or more, your time in the doctor’s chair goes up significantly. This is because the process will need to be done however many times you have babies. Each baby is unique and needs to have its own measurements for safety. 
  4. Allotment of one person, probably. There is a lot of work to be done, which is why the technician may just ask to bring one person of support. This is also good because if you were to find out news, it becomes more bearable with just one support person rather than finding out in a crowd. 
  5. Answers sometimes will not be provided on the spot. Some will be able to be checked out and determined right away as you go through the ultrasound. Others may need time to see the picture clearly or, as we talk about below, second opinions may be needed.
  6. Lastly the picture! Not everyone gets to go home with a crystal 4D image of your baby that can be handed out and shown off to the world. Some parents should know that imaging can still be fuzzy at this stage and the picture may not be super-duper crystal clear. 

    Anatomy Scan Risks

    The 20-week scan is actually an optional scan that can be turned down. This is super rare because parents want to find out as soon as possible if there are any risks to the baby or to the mother. The scan itself has no safety issues or known risks. 

    There are, however, a few things that the mother and or parents should know that could be categorized as “risks”.

    • Should something come up during the appointment, the parents may need to make some difficult decisions on how to best proceed. 
    • Further, tests that may be necessary to understand any evolving abnormalities could lead to miscarriage. 
    • The risk of the mother developing anxiety or stress during this exam for those who have pre-existing anxiety diagnoses. Ultimately, to keep the blood pressure down is important for the safety of the mother and the baby. 

    Anatomy Scan FAQs

    For those who are just hearing about this scan for the first time, you may be a little overwhelmed and still have tons of questions to ask. No worries because this section is dedicated to the most frequently asked questions when it comes to the 20-week anatomy scan. 

    Let’s dive in!

    What happens if the sonographer sees something?

    If something is detected during the scan, it does not necessarily mean something is wrong. Before confirming anything, a technician will likely ask the second opinion of another staff member. If they both think there is a possibility of something, they will suggest further testing to confirm or rule out the condition that is suspected. 

    What part of the mother’s anatomy is looked at and why?

    While a lot of the focus becomes about measuring the baby’s organs and features, it is important for the mother to get checked out as well. Any risks that the mother may have can affect the pregnancy and labor. What specifically is looked at for the mother is the placenta. This is because doctors will be looking for placenta previa to make sure that the placenta is not covering or blocking the birth canal. This can eventually cause complications with a vaginal delivery and should it be a more prominent case, the doctor may suggest c-section delivery. 

    Is there a possibility of mistaking the sex of my baby?

    One of the reasons that mothers and fathers do not want to know the sex of the baby at 20 weeks is because it is possible to misdiagnose whether it is a boy or girl. While not entirely common it is also not unheard of and has happened before. It should be noted that it is way more common to misdiagnose during the first ultrasounds than it is at 20. The reason for misdiagnosis at any level may be because the baby is not in a position that allows the technician to see well. 

    You’re Halfway There!

    While the 20-week anatomy scan can be time-consuming for you and your choice of companion, it is an exciting appointment. For most women, it provides the heartbeat of the baby and a picture of their new family member who will be arriving before they know it. While the scan or ultrasound is optional, many doctors strongly recommended that mothers have this appointment so that if there are any abnormalities that have been undetected thus far, they can search for them now. 

    This may require the mother and the parents to make some decisions on the spot whether they need further testing. As far as risks go, this is the highest risk a mother faces and potentially leads to the stress of dealing with potential abnormalities or risks to the baby and mother. This is why it is important for a technician to measure nearly every single feature and aspect of the baby, as well as the mom’s placenta and umbilical cord. 

    With all this work to be done, a mother can expect to be there for at least an hour or so. This can heavily depend on the baby and how cooperative they are being. With a baby who is hiding, the mother may need to get involved by enduring positions or using methods to get the baby to move on their own. 

    That being said, everything you need to know about the 20-week anatomy scan is right there! Treat it as an exciting time and another milestone in your pregnancy!