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Morphology scan

6-minute read

What is a morphology scan?

A morphology (body part) scan is a routine antenatal test usually done at 18 to 20 weeks of pregnancy. It is an ultrasound that checks your baby’s size and body organs.

Your doctor is likely to recommend you have this test, but the decision to do so is yours. A morphology scan is sometimes called a ‘fetal anomaly’ scan since it is one way your doctor will check your baby for birth defects.

What can a morphology scan tell me about my baby?

The morphology scan is an ultrasound scan that examines many different areas in and around your baby, including their:

  • head and brain
  • spine
  • abdominal wall
  • heart
  • stomach
  • kidney and bladder
  • arms, legs hands and feet
  • placenta
  • umbilical cord
  • amniotic fluid

The person performing the scan will take measurements to help estimate your baby’s age. They will also check the baby’s heart rate and rhythm. Morphology scans can also tell you how many babies are in your uterus (womb) and where your placenta is lying. Depending on the position of your baby, the scan may also be able to tell you the sex of the baby — if you would like to know it.

One of the aims of the routine morphology scan is to offer a safe, accessible test to provide you with more information about your unborn baby. While ultrasound scans can reassure you that your baby is developing normally, you may also learn that your baby has a structural abnormality. For this reason, before you have the test it’s a good idea to think about why you are choosing to do it, and how you will feel once you get the results. Consider also who you want to discuss this important decision with — your partner, a friend or family member, or a health professional such as your GP or midwife are all good options.

What won’t the morphology scan tell me about my baby?

A morphology scan will not tell you anything about any genetic problems (such as Down syndrome) that your baby might have. If you are concerned about genetic conditions, you can talk to your doctor or midwife about screening or diagnostic tests (such as chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis) for these conditions.

Who performs a morphology scan?

The scan is usually done by an ultrasound technician (sonographer) who is specially trained to check your baby. Sometimes one of the clinic's specialist doctors may also come in to scan your baby to help get as much information as possible.

How can I prepare for my morphology scan?

Some clinics will ask you to drink 3 glasses of water 1 hour before the appointment and to then hold it in. This is because having a full bladder makes it easier to see the images. Other clinics recommend eating and drinking as normal, but ask that you do not empty your bladder within 30 minutes of your appointment.

Please check what the clinic prefers when you book your appointment.

What should I expect during my morphology scan?

The sonographer will place some gel on your abdomen (tummy) before using a probe on your skin, known as a transducer, to create images of your baby. Pulses of sound waves will move from the transducer to bounce off your baby, creating echoes. The computer then changes these echoes into images.

Will the scan hurt my baby?

The sound waves are harmless to your baby and they will be unable to hear the scan as the volume is very low.

When will I get the results of my morphology scan?

The results of the scan will be available on the same day that you have it. A copy of the report will go to your referring doctor. If there are any abnormalities found during the scan, a specialist doctor will contact you to discuss what they mean.

How much does a morphology scan cost?

Medicare will cover a proportion of the cost of a morphology scan. Please speak with your doctor to find out if there may be any out-of-pocket costs in your specific situation.

Questions you might want to ask your doctor

Here are some questions you might want to ask your midwife or doctor:

  • Why are you offering me this test?
  • What does the procedure involve, do I need to do anything on the day?
  • When will I get the results?
  • Who will contact me to give me the results?
  • Do I need to do anything to care for myself after the procedure?

More questions to ask your doctor about tests and scans.

More information

Fetal structural abnormalities occur in fewer than 1 in every 200 pregnancies. Although the earliest time to look for these problems is between 18 and 20 weeks of pregnancy, some may not appear until later in the pregnancy. The morphology scan usually picks up between 40% and 70% of these abnormalities. A normal ultrasound does not guarantee that your baby will be born without any abnormalities.

Please speak with your doctor or midwife to help you determine if a morphology scan is right for you.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2022

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