how common is bad news at 20 week scan

Pregnancy is a beautiful experience that is both exciting and nerve-wracking. One of the most anticipated events during pregnancy is the 20-week scan, also known as the anomaly scan. The scan is done to check for any abnormalities or developmental issues in the fetus. However, many parents are understandably concerned about the possibility of receiving bad news during this scan. In this article, we’ll explore how common it is to receive bad news at the 20-week scan and what you can do if you find yourself in that situation.

Understanding the 20-Week Scan

Before diving into the likelihood of bad news, it’s essential to understand what happens during the 20-week scan. The scan is typically done between 18 and 21 weeks of pregnancy and is more in-depth than the previous ultrasound scans done in the first trimester. The sonographer will check the fetus’s development, including its organs, limbs, and brain, to ensure everything is growing correctly. They will also check the amount of amniotic fluid, the placenta’s location, and the umbilical cord’s insertion.

What is Considered Bad News?

It’s important to remember that not all abnormalities are severe or life-threatening. Some can be minor and may not impact the baby’s long-term health. However, there are certain abnormalities that are considered bad news. These include:

  • Neural tube defects, such as spina bifida
  • Heart defects
  • Abdominal wall defects
  • Brain abnormalities, such as holoprosencephaly
  • Chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome

The Likelihood of Receiving Bad News

Now that we understand what is considered bad news, let’s explore how common it is to receive this type of news at the 20-week scan. It’s important to note that the majority of pregnancies result in healthy babies, and most 20-week scans show no abnormalities. However, the risk of receiving bad news does increase slightly from the previous scans.

According to a study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, about 3-4% of pregnancies have a significant anomaly detected during the 20-week scan. This means that out of 100 pregnancies, only 3 or 4 will have a significant abnormality detected. It’s important to note that not all of these abnormalities will be severe or life-threatening.

Coping with Bad News

If you do receive bad news during the 20-week scan, it’s essential to have a support system in place. You may be referred to a fetal medicine specialist who can give you more information about the abnormality and what it means for your baby’s future. They may also discuss options such as termination of the pregnancy or continuing with the pregnancy and preparing for the baby’s needs.

It’s crucial to take time to process the news and discuss your options with your partner, family, or friends. You may also want to seek support from a therapist or a support group for parents in similar situations.


The 20-week scan is an important milestone in pregnancy, and while the risk of receiving bad news is relatively low, it’s essential to be prepared for any eventuality. If you do receive bad news, remember that you’re not alone, and there is support available to you. Take time to process the news and make informed decisions about your baby’s future.

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