Ultrasound Scans For Children

Ultrasound Scans For Children

Ultrasound scans help doctors diagnose and monitor medical conditions and guide treatments. Find out more about what an ultrasound involves. 

Paediatric Ultrasound video

A short animation for children about what to expect before and during an ultrasound scan.
Video by Queensland X-Ray, Australia.
Please note - some content is specific to Australia and may not be relevant to New Zealand. 


Key points about ultrasound scans in children

  • an ultrasound uses sound waves to form detailed images of the inside of the body
  • ultrasound does not use any ionizing radiation
  • ultrasound scans help doctors diagnose and monitor medical conditions, plan surgeries, and guide treatments

What is an ultrasound scan?

An ultrasound uses sound waves (that the human ear cannot hear) to form detailed images of the inside of the body. A doctor may recommend an ultrasound to help understand what's happening inside your child's body.

How long will my child's ultrasound scan take?

Having an ultrasound usually takes around 30 minutes. But it may be shorter or longer. It depends on the body part being scanned.

How does an ultrasound scan work?

Your child will lie on a table next to the ultrasound machine. The examination is performed by a sonographer who is someone trained in ultrasound scanning. The sonographer will use a camera with some gel on it. The sonographer will place the camera over the area that needs scanning. The camera uses sound waves that bounce off the organs and make echoes. These echoes are turned into pictures so doctors can see what's happening inside the body.

Who will my child meet when they have their ultrasound scan?

The person who will do the ultrasound scan is called a sonographer. They can answer your questions and let your child know what they need to do.

Sometimes, a radiologist (a doctor who interprets imaging) may also come in and look at the scans while they are happening. You and your child may also meet other people, such as a nurse or play therapist.

What will my child see when they have their ultrasound scan?

Ultrasound room

The ultrasound room must be dark so the sonographer can see your child's pictures on their screen.

Photo of an ultrasounds scan room

Ultrasound bed

There's a bed inside the room that your child can lie on. They can watch TV or read a book while they have their pictures taken.

Photo of an ultrasounds scanner and bed

Ultrasound camera

This is what the ultrasound camera looks like. It's called a transducer. They come in different shapes and sizes - but they all take pictures. The transducer sits against your child's skin to take their pictures.

The sonographer will use gel on the camera. This will help it slide smoothly over the skin. It wipes off easily after the pictures are taken.

Photo of USS transducer with gel

Will my child need preparation before their ultrasound scan?


If your child is having a scan of their abdomen (tummy area), they will often need to stop eating and drinking for around 4 hours before their appointment. You will get some instructions when your child's appointment is arranged.

Full bladder

If your child is having a scan of their bladder and kidneys, they will need to try and have a full bladder if they can manage this. You will get some instructions when your child's appointment is arranged.


Some tamariki may need sedation to relax them before their scan. The doctor will discuss this with you before the scan. If your child needs sedation, your appointment will take longer.

What will my child need to do during their ultrasound scan?

Keeping still

It is important that your child tries to keep still while they have their scan. If they move around too much, it can make the pictures blurry. It is OK for your child to breathe normally, blink and stay relaxed.

Holding their breath

If your child is having images taken of their chest or abdomen (tummy area), they may need to hold their breath for short periods. You can practise this before their appointment.

What to wear

Have your child dressed in comfy clothes. It's a good idea to wear clothes that are easy to get on and off. Your child may need to lift up layers or take off any clothes that are in the way of the camera. Ultrasound gel dries quickly and washes out easily if it gets on your child's clothes.

How can I help my child prepare for their ultrasound scan?

Asking questions

Check the date and time of your child's scan and see if there is anything you need to do beforehand to prepare. If you have any questions about the scan, contact the hospital where the scan will take place. Ask to speak to the reception at the ultrasound department.

Play therapy

Some hospitals have play therapists that could be involved with your child and their scan. They can support your child with activities to help them feel more comfortable about getting a scan.

What to bring

Sometimes, you may need to wait around before your child has their scan. It's a good idea to bring some things to keep your child busy, such as books or toys. Your child may be able to take a favourite soft toy or comforter into the scan with them. 

Preparing your child

It is important to talk to your child and explain why they are having a scan and what it will involve. How and when you do this will depend on their age and your judgement. The Okee in Medical Imaging App can help you to prepare your child for their scan.

Okee in Medical Imaging App

The Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne has an app you can download onto your phone or tablet. It has games that help your child to practise keeping still and holding their breath. It also has games that help explain the different types of scans.

The app is called Okee in Medical Imaging and is available from the app store.

Screenshot of the OKEE app

Please be aware that some of the content in the app is specific to Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne. 

See the KidsHealth page on renal ultrasound to learn about a specific type of ultrasound

See more KidsHealth content on x-rays and scans 

See the KidsHealth's section on x-rays and scans

Screenshot of KidsHealth website x-rays and scans section


Content adapted and republished, with permission, from resources at The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne, Australia. Images subject to copyright.

This page last reviewed 13 September 2023.

Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 any time of the day or night for free health advice when you need it