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Congratulations on your pregnancy and welcome to the world of pregnancy ultrasounds.
From now until about half way through your pregnancy you are likely to have at least two ultrasounds. These will help you and your maternity care provider know more about your baby’s growth and development.
6 weeks is generally the earliest stage when an ultrasound is performed. Though for women who have had fertility support, an earlier ultrasound may be done. It isn’t common practice in regular pregnancy care to have one this early, but you may have one ordered if there are any concerns.
If your healthcare professional recommends a scan before you're 6 weeks pregnant, this may be to rule out an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy is when the embryo attaches itself outside of the uterus, most commonly in one of the fallopian tubes. If you are experiencing severe pain on one side of your abdomen or shoulder tip pain, see a doctor immediately.
Feeling apprehensive about having an ultrasound so early in pregnancy can be very normal. Try to stay calm and prepare yourself for the findings. It might be a good idea for your partner or a close family member to go along with you for extra support.
6 week ultrasounds are not done routinely, though this depends on individual circumstances. Your maternity care provider may recommend you have one at 6 weeks if they suspect that your pregnancy is not progressing as it should be, you have had bleeding or need reassurance that your pregnancy is progressing well.
Reasons for a 6 Week Ultrasound
At 6 weeks, it can be difficult to see in much detail how the baby is developing. But the size of the baby and the sac it is growing in will give important information about how your little baby is growing. It may even be possible to see your baby’s heartbeat.
The sonographer will also be able to see where your baby has embedded in your uterus and to confirm you don’t have an ectopic pregnancy. If there are concerns, a follow up ultrasound in the next few weeks will be able to give you more information. And another ultrasound 10-12 weeks into your pregnancy will be able to provide more detail.
In the earliest weeks of pregnancy, ultrasounds are usually done vaginally, rather than via the mother’s abdomen. This is because the uterus is still very small and is located deep within the pelvis. A vaginal ultrasound will allow the sound waves to get closer to your uterus and produce a clearer image.
At 6 weeks, your baby should measure approximately 5-9mm long or be about the same size as a lentil.
6 weeks into your pregnancy is also the earliest time you might be able to see a foetal heartbeat on the ultrasound monitor. It will be very faint at this stage and depending on the ultrasound equipment being used, you and the sonographer may not be able to see it at all. If a heartbeat can be seen, this can be seen as a tiny, flickering pulse on the screen.
Don’t be alarmed if all you see on the ultrasound screen is a small, empty circle. It’s still very early days and it’s common for only a yolk sac to be visible.
Right now, your baby may look like a little tadpole. Although it is still tiny, all of its important internal organs are developing. This development will be using a lot of your energy so make sure you rest. And it’s really important to speak with your maternity care provider about taking folic acid supplements too.
Edited and reviewed by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse July 2021.