pregnant women getting an ultrasound
Louise Broadbridge
Louise Broadbridge

Private scans – are they worth it?

Are you thinking about paying for a private ultrasound scan during your pregnancy?

Pregnant women now have more choice of private scans than ever before. You can pay for scans to find out your baby’s gender, gain reassurance in the early weeks of pregnancy and get a clear look at what your little one looks like with 3D images and videos.

If you’re considering booking a private scan, you might be wondering whether it is worth it. The simple answer is it depends – some expectant mothers really enjoy getting some additional glimpses at their baby, but the scans can be expensive and are not medically necessary for a healthy pregnancy.

Which scans will I be given for free?

Pregnant women in the UK are given two routine ultrasound scans as part of their antenatal care on the NHS. The first routine scan is the dating scan, which is often called the 12-week scan, which accurately dates the pregnancy and checks the foetus is developing as expected.

Usually carried out when you are between 10 and 14 weeks pregnant, this scan is the first opportunity most expectant parents will have to see their baby and check everything is fine. During this scan, you will be given an estimated due date, which may be different from the initial date you were given which was based on your last period.

You will also find out if you are expecting more than one baby. If you have opted in for the combined test, a screening test to assess the chance your baby may have Down’s Syndrome and some other genetic conditions, a nuchal translucency scan will be carried out during your dating scan.

This is where the sonographer measures a fluid-filled space behind your baby’s neck to assess the likelihood they might have a chromosomal disorder. The dating scan offered on the NHS is a 2D scan and the images will be black and white. Although the purpose of the scan is medical, you will usually be given an opportunity to buy a scan photograph of your baby to keep – the cost will vary depending on the hospital trust.

Your second routine scan is the anomaly scan, often referred to as the 20-week or mid-pregnancy scan. Carried out between 18 weeks and 21 weeks of pregnancy, the sonographer will take detailed measurements and check your baby’s heart, brain, spinal cord, bones, kidneys, abdomen and face to see if there are any issues you need to be aware of.

Not all health problems are picked up during this scan but you will be told if there are any concerns. If you want to know your baby’s gender, you can also ask the sonographer to look during this scan, although there is no guarantee they will be able to confirm it. Like the dating scan, this will be a black and white 2D scan on the NHS.

If there are any concerns about your pregnancy, you may be offered additional ultrasound scans as part of your antenatal care. If you experience bleeding in early pregnancy or you have a history of miscarriage, you may be given a scan before you are due to have your dating scan to see if your baby has a heartbeat and is developing as expected.

You may also be offered growth scans to measure your baby if your midwife is concerned that your baby is smaller or larger than expected. Ultrasound scans can also be used to monitor your baby if there are any concerns about their health during your pregnancy.

Scans can also be used to check on the position of your placenta and baby in later pregnancy if there are any concerns. Any additional scans given on the NHS will be for medical reasons because they are deemed necessary for your antenatal care but you will get an extra chance to look at your baby.

Why do people pay for private scans?

There are lots of reasons expectant parents may pay a private clinic to carry out an ultrasound scan. Some women opt for a private scan in early pregnancy because they want the reassurance that they really are pregnant and that their baby has a heartbeat. Some women may feel quite anxious in the period running up to the 12-week scan, but they may not meet the criteria for an NHS scan at an early pregnancy unit.

Others may choose to have a private scan to find out the gender of their baby. Lots of private clinics offer scans to identify sex from 16 weeks of pregnancy – around a month earlier than the anomaly scan. There are also some companies who offer gender scans earlier than 16 weeks, although the earlier on you are in your pregnancy, the harder it is for the sonographer to accurately tell you whether you are expecting a boy or a girl.

There is also a growing number of people who get private scans simply because they want some more opportunities to see their baby. Advancing technology means people can now pay for 3D or 4D scans to get clear three-dimensional images of their baby in the womb.

These private scans look very different to the 2D black and white scans offered on the NHS and you will be given more images to take away. 

What are 3D and 4D pregnancy scans?

These three-dimensional scans are created by compiling lots of 2D images. These scans allow you to get a clear look at your baby and you may even be able to see them sucking their thumb or yawning. Some parents are even able to spot family resemblances as the scan can be very detailed. 

A 3D scan is when you are able to get 3D images of your baby, while a 4D scan allows you to buy video footage rather than a still image. Some companies even offer 5D scans which they claim are higher resolution and have sharper images.

Some NHS hospitals do own 3D and 4D scanning technology but at this time, they don’t offer these type of scans as part of routine antenatal care. However, you may be given a 3D scan on the NHS if your baby has a medical issue and health professionals need to look at them in detail. Some abnormalities like a cleft lip are easier to assess in a 3D scan than a 2D one.

Is it worth the cost of a private scan?

When deciding whether to have a private ultrasound scan, you need to think about why you want the scan and whether you can easily afford it. If you don’t have the budget for a private scan, which can cost anything from £55 to £300 depending on the type of scan, don’t worry as they are not necessary for a healthy pregnancy.

If you can easily afford the scan and you want to find out the gender early or see your baby in detail, there is no reason why you shouldn’t go ahead. All private scans are carried out by trained sonographers and there are no known risks to you and your baby.

A Which? Survey carried out in February 2022 found that 83% of new parents had paid for at least one private pregnancy scan and of those, 84% had found it very useful.

When choosing where to go for a private scan, do your research. Prices can really vary so make sure you check the cost carefully and find out exactly what is included and whether you will have to pay more for images and video footage. Read the terms and conditions as some companies offer money-back guarantees on things like gender scans if they are unable to tell you the sex of your baby.

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