Antenatal Care

3D and 4D Ultrasound Scans

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As part of your routine antenatal care, you will be asked to attend two ultrasound scans to check on the health and development of your baby. Where there are any concerns, due to your medical history, past pregnancies or as a result of either of these scans, you may be asked to attend additional scans. In addition to these, private scans in 3D and 4D are becoming more and more widely available in the UK, enabling parents to get a clearer window into their baby's world before they are born.

Why would I want a 3D or 4D scan?

For some parents, the suspense of waiting to see their baby for nine months is too much to take! Knowing that you can pay privately to see your baby in 3D on a monitor or even to take home a DVD of them moving around in the womb can be a way to break up the time in between getting pregnant and meeting your little one. The purpose of these scans is to allow you to see your baby more clearly and to see the features that you are interested in, such as their face. At the routine ultrasound scans at your hospital, you will spend a lot of the time looking at an image which might mean little to you because the sonographer (the person conducting the scan) will be looking in detail at cross sections of the baby and their various organs. Whereas the routine hospital scans are conducted in order to monitor your baby's health, these private scans are primarily conducted to provide you with a souvenir of your pregnancy.

What is a 3D scan?

Your routine scans at the hospital will be conducted in 2D, providing you with a two-dimensional image like that in any normal photograph. In a 3D scan, the process is the same: sound waves are sent from a transducer and they bounce back to create an image. However, they are bounced back from different angles, enabling a three-dimensional image to be produced. This means that you can get a better idea of what your baby actually looks like, as you can get an idea of the depth and length of each part of their face or body.

What is a 4D scan?

Having a 4D scan will provide you with actual footage of the baby's movements, and in three-dimensions. You are usually able to buy this footage in the form of a DVD.

Are 3D and 4D scans safe?

The best answer to this question is to say that they have not been found to be unsafe. They do use the same technology as standard 2D ultrasound scans that are used routinely in antenatal care. However, there has not been enough research into the long term effects of these 3D and 4D scans on babies, so there is still some doubt as to whether they are advisable. The key concern about ultrasound scans is the heat generated by the process. It has been accepted for some time that this is not a cause for concern during routine 2D ultrasound scans as the duration of the scan is kept short and the level of heat generated is monitored closely. The same should apply to 3D and 4D scans conducted privately, as all monitors should be fitted with a thermal index, enabling the operator to stay within the advised temperature range. Further research is needed, however, to confirm that this additional exposure to ultrasound is absolutely safe for an unborn baby.

Will a 3D or 4D scan diagnose any health problems with the baby?

If the health problems are obvious, then possibly. However, most of these companies are in the business of providing you with a souvenir image of your baby, as opposed to getting involved in medical matters, and the operator may not be medically trained to make a diagnosis. It is therefore vital that you still attend the ultrasound appointments that you are given as part of your antenatal care at the hospital, as these are extremely important for monitoring the health of your baby and your pregnancy.

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This internet site provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. If you have any concerns about your own health or the health of your child, you should always consult a doctor or other healthcare professional.