Unlike the traditional 2D ultrasound scan, which creates a blurred, two-dimensional image that just lets you make out the shape of your baby, a 3D ultrasound scan produces a much more lifelike three-dimensional image in incredible detail. By animating a series of these scans, a four-dimensional moving image can be produced showing your baby moving, yawning and smiling in the womb.
The 3D / 4D ultrasound scan uses the same basic techniques as traditional scans, but take a series of readings which are then processed by a computer to create the three-dimensional image. This series of readings allows the technician to look at your baby in any plane. This means that a 3D / 4D ultrasound scan gives them far more information than the 2D scan.
This article on 3D / 4D ultrasound scans is by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
What does a 3D / 4D ultrasound scan cost?
3D / 4D ultrasound scans are not available on the NHS, but you can find them widely available at private clinics. You should expect to pay around £95 for a 3D ultrasound scan with a series of pictures for you to keep, and around £250 for a 4D ultrasound scan with a souvenir DVD.
What do these scans tell you about your baby?
A 3D / 4D ultrasound scan can reveal a great deal about your baby’s development, health and physical characteristics. With most 3D / 4D ultrasound scans, you should be able to see facial features clearly to see whom the baby takes after.
With a 3D / 4D ultrasound scan at 12 weeks, you will see your baby stretching and kicking, a 3D / 4D ultrasound scan at 18 weeks may show the baby’s eyes open and a 3D / 4D ultrasound scan at 26 weeks will show your baby smiling and crying, scratching and sucking its thumb.
Research shows that mothers who have had a 3D / 4D ultrasound scan will bond better both with their unborn child and their new baby when it arrives. Such a clear and heart-warming image creates a real relationship with a living, moving baby, rather than just a bump.
What conditions can these scans reveal?
Aside from the emotional and psychological advantages, and the joy of showing off your baby to family and friends, there is also a range of medical advantages to 3D / 4D ultrasound scans.
Experts can use the results to spot malformations such as bone shape abnormalities like spina bifida, dwarfism and club feet, cleft palate and cleft lip. This can both prepare the hospital to perform any corrective surgery as soon as possible after birth, and prepare the parents for any changes they need to make to accommodate their new baby and its problems.
3D / 4D ultrasound scans can also be used to check the foetus’s heart, digestive system and kidney function as well as general health and development displayed through limb, eye and mouth movements.
However, for the vast majority of parents, what the 3D / 4D ultrasound scan actually provides is the reassurance that none of these conditions are present and that their baby is developing well and functioning and moving normally. It is natural to fret and worry about your unborn baby, especially if you have had any problems during your pregnancy. A 3D / 4D ultrasound scan is a great way to put your mind at rest, helping the mother to relax, which brings many benefits to the baby too.
Are there any other advantages?
By having a 3D / 4D ultrasound scan, you will be helping with the development of this new area. And while this may not directly help your own baby, studies of the data collected may lead to a better understanding of foetal development for babies in the future.
As 3D / 4D ultrasound scan pioneer Professor Stuart Campbell explains: "This is a new science for understanding and mapping out the behaviour of the baby. In the future it will help us understand and diagnose genetic disease, maybe even conditions like cerebral palsy which currently puzzle the medical profession.”
So is it worth the money?
With so many advantages, from the excitement of seeing your baby so early on, through better bonding between mother and child, to the reassurance that all is well, or an early warning that treatment may be needed, it is clear that a 3D / 4D ultrasound scan is well worth the money.
With prices starting from under a hundred pounds, it is a small price to pay for such a remarkable image of the new life that you have created.