The 20 week scan. This is often referred to as a gender scan. It’s an exciting time, being able to see your baby again and find out its a boy or girl. However, there’s much more to this scan than finding out the baby’s gender. The 20 week scan, or anomaly scan, is to check that baby is developing normally and there are no abnormalities.
Thankfully, most expectant mums will walk into the scan room, see their beautiful baby on screen, perhaps find out the gender and then walk out smiling, scan picture in hand, feeling reassured that all is well. But a few will walk out of that scan room numb, bewildered, devastated, their worlds having fallen apart. I was one of those mums. The 20 week scan detected that my daughter had a severe congenital heart defect (CHD).
Finding out that something was wrong was devastating but I was lucky. If the sonographer hadn’t picked up my baby’s heart defect, there is no doubt in my mind that my little girl would not be here today. Identifying my daughter’s heart defect at the 20 week scan led to her having pioneering fetal surgery just 8 weeks later. This surgery then gave my daughter the chance of being able to have life-saving open-heart surgery after she was born. We owe Jessica’s life to the skills of the sonographer who performed her scan (as well as all the medical staff who have cared for her since that day).
CHDs affect around 1 in 100 babies. Approximately 3000 babies are born every year with a major heart defect requiring surgery within the first year of life. Only about a third of these are detected during pregnancy. Antenatal detection improves the outcomes for babies with heart defects by helping them get appropriate medical care as early as possible. Jessica was born 70 miles from our home, in a hospital with access to children’s cardiology services and surgery. She had her first open-heart surgery at just 8 hours old. Knowing about her heart defect meant that we could plan and prepare. It therefore meant we could give our daughter the best possible chance of survival.
Jessica’s story is featured in the Big Tick campaign which is run by the charity Tiny Tickers. The Big Tick aims to improve antenatal detection rates for CHDs by helping to inform pregnant women about the kind of questions they should be asking at the anomaly scan. CHDs are more common than many people realise. They are the biggest cause of birth-defect related deaths in babies. Approximately 1000 newborn babies leave hospital each year with an undetected heart defect. Raising awareness and improving antenatal detection rates could help to improve the outcome for many of these babies.
If you are expecting a baby and haven’t yet had your 20 week scan, you can go to the Big Tick website and request a card with more information to take with you to the scan. If you know someone who is expecting a baby, please do pass this information on to them too.
I wrote this post to support the Tiny Tickers Big Tick campaign purely through my own personal wish to raise awareness of CHDs. I have not received any compensation for writing this post.