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Coping with scans

Scans may help you deal with uncertainty. But they can also make you very anxious.

Most people who are pregnant after a previous loss will have at least two ultrasound scans at 12 and 20 weeks. You may be offered other scans depending on your medical history and your previous losses.

You may also choose to have private scans, if you can afford it. If you do choose to do this, make sure you pick somewhere that is regulated by the Care Quality Commission.

Coping before a scan 

Most people we spoke to said that they found the anxiety they felt before a scan almost overwhelming. Both the build-up to the scan and the scan itself can be difficult in different ways. You may find it especially hard if your scan is in the same hospital or room as your last loss.

We’ve collected some ideas and suggestions from other women who have been through it. We hope this will help you prepare for and manage the experience. Some of this will involve learning to recognise and understand your own feelings.

You can’t always get rid of difficult feelings completely. We hope these suggestions help you find the strength to manage them.

I had a scan pretty much every two weeks until my booking scan, which was a blessing and a curse. I couldn’t have got through the first trimester without it. But I found scans so triggering by that stage, I got so worked up.

Listen to Emma talk to Clare about her experience and how she coped with scans. You can read the transcript here.


Preparing for the scan

If possible, try and get a scan earlier in the day to avoid too much waiting and worrying.

You may find it helpful to make a plan of how you are going to look after yourself in the run-up to the scan. Speaking to your manager or scheduling less work in the run-up to the scan may give you more time to look after yourself.

Some people find mindfulness helpful. Mindfulness techniques can be a tool for coping with difficult emotions. It helps you observe difficult emotions rather than getting caught up in them. Try an app like Headspace. The trick is to practice beforehand so these techniques are familiar by the time you need them most.

When you feel anxious, you feel under threat and your brain and body move into fight or flight mode. You release adrenalin and cortisol. They make your heart beat faster, send blood to your muscles and make you feel more alert. They also make it harder to think straight and see a way through.

Breathing exercises like these from the NHS or these from Headspace can help you calm down again and keep anxiety levels at a manageable level. Again, it can help to practice them beforehand.

It may help to explain what you are doing to your partner or another person you trust. Help them understand how you feel and what you are doing to prepare and stay calm. It might help to practice some of the breathing exercises with them and ask them to remind you of them on the day. They may feel anxious too and it might help you both to do them together.

Some people find talking to others who have been through something similar can help them feel less alone. Our Pregnancy after Loss Facebook groups can be filtered by topic so you can find people who are at the same stage of pregnancy as you.

Make a plan for what you will do in the event of positive news, and what you will do if it is bad news.

On the day of the scan

On the morning of the scan I went for a walk and worked out how I was going to cope if it was bad news – focusing on the things I already had and reminding myself it wasn’t the end of the road for us. This made me feel slightly more in control.

If possible, find some space in the morning to take some deep breaths and prepare yourself.

You may find it helpful to listen to a guided meditation or breathing exercise while you are waiting.

Some people said they found it helpful to play a distracting game on their phone.

Tell the sonographer why you are feeling nervous and ask them to tell you immediately if they find a heartbeat. You may also want to ask them to keep your screen turned off at first. You may be able to phone ahead and let them know.


Coping after the scan

“I would have a scan and feel elated that everything was fine and then the familiar worry would creep in two days later.”

The rollercoaster of emotions leading up to and after a scan can be draining. If you get good news, you may feel that the reassurance makes them worth it. Or you might feel that it’s too much additional stress and you would rather have as few scans as possible.

If baby seems to be ok, you’re likely to be feeling relief. If you felt a lot of anxiety building up to the scan, you may feel exhausted and drained now it’s over. Most people say they feel cautious relief after a positive scan, perhaps more so after the 12-week scan, when your chance of a miscarriage drops to 1-2%.

Not everyone finds statistics helpful and if you have experienced later loss in the past, you may find these statistics less reassuring.

It may help to focus on the fact that another milestone has been reached. Think about what you can do to enjoy or remember this moment.

Your emotional state may mean you don’t end up asking other questions. There may still be things that are worrying you. It’s always worth reducing any sources of anxiety as much as possible so try calling the unit or speaking to your midwife.

If baby is measuring small or behind, you will probably be faced with more uncertainty. You may be referred for another appointment, further tests or another scan in a week or so. This can be particularly difficult to bear if you have experienced things going wrong in the past.

If you have been given bad news, we are so sorry. This loss may feel even harder than before. We are here for you, online, over the phone or face-to-face. You might also find it helpful to have a look at our information on recurrent miscarriage.

When to share?

If you have been given positive news after the 12-week scan, you may be thinking about telling more people about your pregnancy.

Some people don’t feel ready yet, others may want to share or celebrate the pregnancy. You may have told the most important people already (our page on early pregnancy after miscarriage has some more thoughts on this).

Telling more people may not feel as simple as it did in the past. You may choose to be more cautious in the way you talk about your pregnancy.

People who don’t know you well or haven’t been there through the pain of your loss or losses may not respond in a way that feels helpful. They may be more positive or optimistic than you feel or assume that being pregnant with a new baby means you are no longer grieving your loss or losses.

You may choose to explain how you feel or share some of this information with them. Or you may decide to let it go, understanding they probably don’t mean to cause distress. This will probably depend on your relationship with them and how close you are.