woman laying on the couch and looking at her sonogram photos

What Happens at the 20-Week Ultrasound

By Erica Patino
Reviewed by Alyssa Quimby, M.D.
June 28, 2023

One of the key appointments in pregnancy is an ultrasound that happens about halfway through. It’s often called the 20-week ultrasound, the midpregnancy ultrasound, or the anatomy scan.

“This is important because it’s checking that the baby is developing normally,” says Sunny Soroosh, a certified nurse-midwife at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “That their organs all look normal and your baby is growing at a normal rate.”

What Is the 20-Week Ultrasound?

This ultrasound is a screening test that allows your doctor or midwife to look closely at your future baby’s body. It’s a routine part of prenatal care, recommended between 18 and 22 weeks. “At that point, the heart, brain, spine, kidneys, hands, and face are big enough to see that they're developing normally,” says Teresa Hoffman, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at Hoffman and Associates OB/GYN in Baltimore.

Your provider will check just about every body part to see how it’s developing. They may be able to spot potential issues, such as Down syndrome, cleft lip, spina bifida, and heart problems. But don’t worry too much. In most cases, everything looks fine.

What Can I Expect at the 20-Week Ultrasound?

During the anatomy scan, you'll be on an exam table. An ultrasound technician will ask you to pull up your shirt so they can put gel on your belly.

Then they’ll move the ultrasound wand over different parts of your belly to take images of your fetus. You’ll be able to see everything on a screen. The technician may ask you to move around depending on how well they can see the baby.

After they’re done, your doctor or midwife will go over the results with you. This may happen right after, or at a follow-up appointment in the next few days.

What Should I Know Before I Go?

The ultrasound technician will be trying to capture images of different body parts. This can sometimes take two or more hours.

If they aren't able to get a clear view of something because of how your baby is positioned, they might have you come back. “That doesn't necessarily mean there's something wrong; just sometimes there's not a good view,” says Soroosh.

Also, if you haven't already found out the predicted sex of your baby, you’ll probably be able to find out. That’s because the genitalia will likely be visible. If you don’t want to know, tell the technician before the scan.

What Do I Need to Do After the Ultrasound?

If everything appears as expected, you won’t need to do anything until your next appointment.

If anything looks unusual, your provider will likely need more information. They may recommend further tests, such as amniocentesis, depending on what the potential issue is. Other tests may help them better understand whether or not your future baby has a health concern.

You May Also Like: