Demystifying the Anatomy Scan

I see a lot of confusion about this on the internet–anxieties about what it’ll be like, what to expect, and disappointment that what a lot of people see as their big Gender Reveal scan is sometimes a little…scientific. This is my experience with it, which hopefully can dispel some of those worries.

What is it? 

The anatomy scan, sometimes called a WellBaby scan or a Level 2 ultrasound, and popularly thought of as the Gender Reveal scan, is your big mid-pregnancy ultrasound. For some people, this may be the first scan they get. I had a lot of problems early in pregnancy, so I’d already had a handful of scans, but this was certainly the longest and most thorough. Generally thought of as your 20 week scan, the anatomy scan usually takes place anywhere from 18-22 weeks depending on your practitioner and schedule of appointments. Mine happened at 18w2d.

What to expect: 

This will be coupled with the usual routine you’re probably used to be now–weight, blood pressure, and pee-in-a-cup check. Depending on the practice, your practitioner might be in there with the tech or may be called in later to check on everything. If you had earlier transvaginal ultrasounds, you’re in luck–this one will stay happily on the outside.

Your ultrasound tech will ask you to bare your belly and will generously apply ultrasound gel. Mine used SO MUCH, because it evaporates relatively quickly and this one is little long.

My tech started with measurements of the circumference of the head and brain, which was rad as hell. 

Here’s the thing about this scan: be patient. While getting the sex of your baby may be super important to you today, this is not your healthcare provider’s primary concern–the health of your fetus is. Mine worked from the literal top down, so we didn’t get the big reveal until more than halfway through. Personally, I was transfixed by the nitty gritty of what she could see because it all looked pretty blobby to me without her guidance on what everything was.

Your tech will check the face for issues like a cleft palette and will work down to looking at the formation of the spine, lungs, stomach, arms and legs, and kidney and bladder function. Mine was thoughtful enough to show us a little black dot of pee in her bladder, which reassured her that all was working well. Likely, they will spend the most time looking at the heart–they want to see the four chambers and they will likely want to watch it beat several times to verify its function. Finally, they’ll check your placenta for placement and size.

The tech will also check the genitals to make sure that’s looking good, and if you want to know, will tell you what they think they’re looking at sex-wise. My tech has been doing ultrasounds for longer than I’ve been alive and is a PRO, but even she said that she could be wrong. They’ll most likely be correct, but know that there is some margin of error, especially if you go in on the earlier end of the 18-22 weeks, like I did.

All The Feels 

If I had to provide any other piece of advice other than patience, it would be to prepare yourself for this to be pretty emotional. You might have some worries that everything will look good, and you might be flooded with a lot of overwhelming feelings of joy and anticipation at what you’re seeing on the screen. Try to stay open to it–don’t be embarrassed about having reactions to what you’re seeing, and don’t be afraid to cry if it happens to move you that way. Your tech and practitioner have seen the gamut of human emotions, and you won’t surprise or unnerve them with yours. Likewise, encourage the same from your partner (PS–this is an appointment not to miss if they can help it). It was such a bonding experience to see all of it with my husband, and also made me feel so in community with my tech and OB.


Certainly, you’ll walk away with some print outs of your scan. My tech goes a little ham on these, and I have a 3.5 foot scroll of these on my fridge now. Here are some highlights:


This is what a fetus-face looks like from straight on in a 2D ultrasound. I think the tech thought we were a little weird for joking that she looks like a ninja turtle.


Little foot. These are the best.


This is a butt. It also somehow communicated that she’s a she to the tech–again, I’m endlessly impressed by their abilities.


I believe this one was a shot of her bladder functioning. The little black dot in the center right is pee.


My favorite, actually: fully articulated spine. There’s something really poetic and beautiful about carrying two spines.



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