Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

Morphology scan

8-minute read

Key facts

  • Ultrasound scans are routinely offered during pregnancy.
  • A morphology scan at 18 to 22 weeks is part of routine pregnancy care.
  • The scan helps to monitor the growth and health of your unborn baby.
  • It is your choice if you decide to have a morphology scan.

What is a morphology scan?

A morphology (body part) scan is a routine antenatal test. It is usually done at 18 to 22 weeks of pregnancy.

It is an ultrasound to check the size of your baby and how their body organs are developing.

Your doctor or midwife is likely to recommend you have a morphology scan. But the decision to have one is yours.

A morphology scan is sometimes called a ‘fetal anomaly’ scan. Your doctor can use this scan to check your baby for congenital anomalies (birth differences).

Why might I need a morphology scan?

The morphology scan is an ultrasound scan that can provide information about how your baby is developing. At 18 to 22 weeks your baby is big enough for many of their body parts to be examined.

The scan looks at your baby’s:

  • head and brain
  • spine
  • abdominal (tummy) wall
  • heart
  • stomach
  • kidneys and bladder
  • arms, legs hands and feet

It also looks at the:

Morphology scans can 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.

The routine morphology scan offers a safe, accessible test to provide you with more information about your unborn baby.

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

A morphology scan cannot diagnose genetic problems (such as Down syndrome).

If there are concerns about genetic conditions, you can talk to your doctor or midwife about diagnostic tests (such as chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis) for these conditions.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

Who performs a morphology scan?

The scan is usually done by an ultrasound technician (sonographer) who has had training to do ultrasounds during pregnancy.

Sometimes a specialist doctor may also come in to scan your baby to help get as much information as possible.

How can I prepare for my morphology scan?

Before you have a morphology scan it’s a good idea to think about why you are having it, and what you might learn. As well as seeing your baby, you might find out that something is not going to plan. You may like to bring your partner, a friend or family member along with you.

Your doctor, midwife or the ultrasound clinic will tell you how to best prepare for your scan. In many cases you won’t need to do anything special to get ready.

The clinic might ask you to wear loose clothing on the day and drink some water before the ultrasound scan so that there is fluid in your bladder. This is because having a full bladder makes it easier to see the images.

What happens during a morphology scan?

The sonographer will place some gel on your abdomen (tummy). Then they will place a wand called a transducer on your skin.

Pulses of sound waves go from the transducer to your baby, creating echoes. The computer then changes these echoes into images.

The sonographer will take lots of measurements. These results are used to check your baby’s size and age. They will also check the baby’s heart rate and rhythm.

Can a morphology scan harm my baby?

A morphology scan is a safe and pain-free test. There is no increased risk of miscarriage or harm to your baby.

The sound waves used during ultrasound are harmless to your baby. Unlike an x-ray, there is no radiation used.

When will I get the results of my morphology scan?

The results of your ultrasound scans will usually be available on the same day. You can ask for a copy of the images.

A full report from the radiologist (a specialist doctor) will go to your doctor. If there are any abnormalities found during the scan, a doctor will contact you to discuss what they mean.

What do the morphology scan results mean?

The morphology scan is a screening test to examine your baby’s development. A small number of morphology scans (1 or 2 of every 100 scans) will find a possible fetal anomaly (abnormality).

If your morphology scan finds an anomaly, you will be referred for further testing. This could mean another ultrasound or a diagnostic test. Diagnostic tests may include chorionic villus sampling or amniocentesis.

Ask your doctor to explain the results. You can also visit a counsellor to discuss what your test results mean.

Although the recommended time to look for problems is between 18 and 22 weeks of pregnancy, there are limitations to how good the ultrasound pictures can be. Also, some anomalies may not appear until later in the pregnancy.

A normal ultrasound does not guarantee that your baby will be born without any structural anomalies.

How much does a morphology scan cost?

Medicare will cover some of the cost of a morphology scan. Ask your doctor if there will be any out-of-pocket costs.

Can I bring my partner to the morphology scan?

Yes. You can bring your partner, or a family member or friend to your morphology scan. It can be good for another person to hear the information provided so that you can chat about it afterwards.

Your partner will also be able to see images of your baby on the screen.

Do I have to have a morphology scan?

During pregnancy, you and your doctor and midwife will decide together which tests you will have. You don’t have to have a morphology scan, but it is the most common scan that is done during pregnancy.

You will be given information about the morphology scan so that you can make an informed decision.

Questions for 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, and 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.

Resources and support

Speak with your doctor or midwife to help you decide if a morphology scan is right for you.

Visit Inside Radiology to learn more about ultrasound scans and other imaging tests.

Go to the Western Sydney local health district website or the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne for information about pregnancy in many languages.

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: November 2023

Back To Top

Need more information?

Ultrasound scans during pregnancy

Ultrasound scans help monitor your baby's health throughout your pregnancy. Find out when and why you might have ultrasound scans during pregnancy.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Ultrasounds during pregnancy | Health and wellbeing | Queensland Government

Ultrasounds use sound waves to create an image (picture) of your baby. They are used to look at your developing baby.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Checkups, scans and tests during pregnancy

Handy infographic that shows what you can expect and what you might be offered at each antenatal appointment during your pregnancy.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Pregnancy at week 18

By week 18, you may start to feel light-headed and dizzy, but you may also be able to find out whether you’re having a boy or a girl.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Glossary of pregnancy and labour

Glossary of common terms and abbreviations used in pregnancy and labour.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.