Ultrasounds are a normal and exciting part of the journey of pregnancy. Multiple ultrasounds are usually performed throughout a pregnancy, with more and more details of your baby becoming visible at each stage. If you have an ultrasound at 6 weeks, it’s likely to be your first as many women do not even know they are pregnant at this time. Six weeks is also about as early as you can see anything via ultrasound, so doctors are not likely to perform the procedure before this time even if you know or think you are pregnant. If you do know you’re pregnant by 6 weeks, your doctor may perform an ultrasound to assess how viable the developing embryo is. You will not likely be able to see much on the sonogram, which is the photo produced by the ultrasound, but your doctor will be able to gather some key information from the procedure.

What is an ultrasound?

An ultrasound is simple and noninvasive medical procedure that scans the abdomen and pelvic cavity of a woman using high frequency sound waves to create a picture of the baby and placenta. The photo produced is called a sonogram. Many people do not differentiate between the two terms and may refer to the whole process as either an ultrasound or sonogram.

At 6 weeks an abdominal ultrasound is not likely to produce a very clear photo and your doctor will likely perform a vaginal ultrasound to get a look at the growing embryo. Vaginal ultrasounds are performed using a wand-shaped vaginal ultrasound machine that is inserted into the vagina to produce an image.

How will I feel at 6 weeks pregnant?

Many pregnant women find out their pregnant around 6–8 weeks as symptoms often begin to show around this time. Symptoms may include brown vaginal discharge from hormonal changes, abdominal pain, mood swings, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, increased saliva and needing to urinate more often. Not all women experience these symptoms or even any symptoms during pregnancy. An ultrasound can confirm your pregnancy whether symptoms are present or not.

What will the 6-week ultrasound show?

Heartbeat

In a 6 week ultrasound a fetal heartbeat is often detectable. At this time 90 to 110 beats per minutes is a normal fetal heartbeat. If a fetal heartbeat is detected at 6 weeks it’s an indicator that the pregnancy is viable and likely not to end in a miscarriage. That being said, detecting a heartbeat at this stage does not guarantee a miscarriage will not take place. If no fetal heartbeat is detected at this time, your medical professional will likely advise you to come back for another ultrasound in one to two weeks to check for a heartbeat again. An undetectable heartbeat at 6 weeks may grow stronger at 7 or 8 weeks and show up during the procedure.

Position

One thing that will likely show up on a 6 week ultrasound is the location of the embryo. A doctor will be able to assess if the embryos location is correctly placed in the uterus. If an ectopic pregnancy—one where the embryo has implanted in the Fallopian tube rather than the uterus—is present there are many health risks involved and it’s important to catch early. The doctor determines the embryos location using patterns of blood flow that show up in the ultrasound.

Fetal Pole

Fetal pole refers to the general shape of the embryo. This basic overall shape can be seen at the 6 week ultrasound. At this time, the embryo shape looks like a bean and the doctor will be able to measure the size of the embryo. Though it may look like a blob or bean on screen, the doctor or technician will likely be able to discern the head from the buttocks at this time.

Yolk Sac and Chorionic Sac

While developing in the womb, the fetus is encased by a circular liquid sac called the chorionic, or gestational, sac. Within the chorionic sac lies the yolk sac, which provides nourishment to the embryo before the placenta and umbilical cord develop and begin to provide nutrients to the fetus. Both sacs are visible at the 6 week ultrasound.

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Things to consider with a 6 week ultrasound

The above information only applies to an embryo that has grown for a full 6 weeks. Since many women experience irregular menstrual cycles, it’s difficult to date a pregnancy at this early of a stage. If a 6 week ultrasound happens and a woman is in fact only 5 weeks pregnant, what you can see in the ultrasound will be effected—every day and week makes a major impact on ultrasound visibility at this time. Because of this, doctors will usually recommend waiting a week and coming back for anew ultrasound if anything seems off.