Are you pregnant?
If you’re expecting a baby – congratulations!
During your pregnancy, you’ll be offered an ultrasound scan at around 18-21 weeks. This scan will be delivered by a sonographer, and they will check your baby’s heart. In the vast majority of cases, your sonographer will be able to give you the reassurance that your baby’s heart has been thoroughly checked and looks to be developing normally. But the 20 week scan is the best time to spot heart problems during pregnancy and some parents-to-be will find out that their baby has suspected CHD at this time.
Below is our animation that shows how a baby’s heart develops during pregnancy.
Think 20. Think HEART.
We know that most mums-to-be go into their 20 week scan feeling excited. They know they’ll get a chance to see their baby on screen, maybe get some scan photos, and also (if they want to) find out whether they are expecting a girl or a boy.
Our research also shows that most mums-to-be don’t really know much about what the scan is looking for, or about heart defects. 63% of parents said they weren’t given enough information to understand their 20 week scan before they went to it.
Of the parents we surveyed, a huge 78% said they felt it was vital or very important to ask their sonographer questions about their baby’s heart – but only 21% said they had done so. Almost half of those told us they simply didn’t know what to ask.
Find out how much you know about the 20 week scan by taking part in our Think 20. Think HEART quiz!
So as part of our Think 20 campaign, we’ve produced a free information card that includes information and questions about your 20 week scan, so you can confidently discuss your baby’s heart health with your sonographer.
All about your 20 week scan
The main purpose of this scan is to check that your baby is developing normally. It’s commonly known as the 20 week scan, but it’s proper name is the ‘fetal anomaly screening’, because it checks for abnormalities in your baby’s growth – including the heart.
Just like your 12 week dating scan, the 20 weeks scan uses ultrasound, which sends high-frequency sound waves through your uterus. They bounce off your baby and produce an image on a computer screen. Ultrasound is not harmful or invasive to your baby or to you.
Your appointment should take at least 30 minutes as there are a number of different views of your baby that your sonographer will want to check. For example, they will take five different views of your baby’s heart – looking at it at different angles to check all looks well.
Your scan will usually be performed by a sonographer, and sometimes by an obstetrician. Different hospitals have different rules, but you will normally be able to take your partner, or one friend or family member along to the scan. Other children are not usually allowed.
Why your 20 week scan is so important
Your 20 week scan can be a very exciting experience and a great chance to find out more about your baby – including the sex if you choose to know. But, in terms of screening your baby’s heart, your 20 week scan is absolutely vital.
Detecting heart problems before birth has huge benefits. It allows appropriate care of mum and baby before birth and, if necessary, it allows doctors to plan for a safer delivery in the right place, at the right time, and under the right conditions.
Should a problem be spotted, earlier detection allows parents to learn about their baby’s condition and prepare for whatever treatment and care is needed. Detecting heart defects after birth can be difficult and some conditions can be life-threatening if not treated appropriately as soon as possible. Research shows early detection increases the baby’s survival chances and helps their long-term quality of life – so, if a baby has a heart problem, the sooner it is spotted the better. That’s why Tiny Tickers works so hard to improve detection rates.
What happens if a heart problem is spotted during pregnancy?
Every pregnancy has a small risk of a problem. Around 20 weeks into pregnancy is the best time to screen your baby’s heart, and your sonographer will want to look at five different views of the heart to check for any problems.
If your sonographer suspects a heart defect, they will refer you to a specialist for an appointment to take a more detailed scan and make a full diagnosis – often to a specialist fetal cardiologist or anomaly expert. It is not the sonographer’s job to diagnosis what the problem is or how serious it is, so they will not be able to give you all the information you want immediately – their job is to spot potential problems and refer you to a specialist.
You should be seen by the specialist within five working days – a target that will be coming down to three working days from April 2016. A cardiac nurse who specialises in supporting parents should either be at that appointment or, if a diagnosis is confirmed, make contact with you soon afterwards.
Finding out there may be a problem with your baby’s heart is a very difficult and worrying time. It’s completely natural to want to do something and find out as much information as possible. However, heart conditions are often very complicated and no two patients are exactly the same – only your specialist can offer the most accurate diagnosis. Whatever the outcome, the specialist will be able to answer your questions and help you plan the next steps.
We offer virtual peer support groups for parents and parents-to-be of babies with congenital heart defects. Sign up to join a group here.
If your scan shows no problems
Most 20 weeks scans won’t highlight any problems with the baby’s heart, which is fantastic news. However, since fewer than half of all defects are spotted during pregnancy, it’s important to know what other tests are available and to know the signs of an undiagnosed heart defect.
Pulse oximetry testing
Tiny Tickers is campaigning for all newborn babies to undergo a pulse oximetry test – a simple, quick, non-invasive and painless test that can highlight the signs of a heart problem.
All babies have what’s known as their ‘newborn check’ before being allowed to leave hospital for the first time. We are campaigning for the pulse oximetry test to be introduced as part of this check, and NHS England is currently running a pilot scheme to do just that. Many hospitals around the UK are already doing pulse oximetry tests, so ask yours if they are.
Think Heart – know the signs for your newborn
Despite the best efforts of sonographers and newborn hospital tests, some babies have undiagnosed heart defects. We think it’s vital all parents know the signs that their baby could have a heart problem – visit this page to find out more.