Ultrasound scans have been a commonplace part of pre-natal care for several decades, since they were introduced into the field by Professor Ian MacDonald in the 1960s.
Although useful, many of these scratchy, two-dimensional images have relied heavily on the willing imagination of the prospective parents to make out shapes and forms resembling a baby.
Today, thanks to the latest state-of-the-art 3D and 4D ultrasound scanning equipment, parents can see their unborn baby in incredible detail, revealing facial features, expressions, and even movement, from as early as 12 weeks.
This article on 3D and 4D Ultrasound Scans is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
A new world revealed
With a 3D Ultrasound Scan, you will be able to see:
- The face of your baby in three dimension (unless your baby is shy and looking away throughout the scan. In this case, the scan can be repeated later when the baby has moved around).
- The development of your baby’s body and limbs
- A far more realistic image of your baby than the old 2D ‘smudge’
By taking a series of 3D scans, the fourth dimension of time can be added, to produce a movie of your baby that reveals:
- At 12 weeks - your baby is already stretching and kicking, long before you are aware of these movements.
- At 18 weeks - your baby may have opened his eyes (8 weeks earlier than was originally thought).
- At 26 weeks - your baby will display a wide range of involuntary movements including smiling, crying, scratching, and sucking his thumb.
How it works
The 3D Ultrasound Scan uses the same technique as the traditional 2D scan. However, instead of producing a single flat image it takes a series of readings, which are processed by a computer. These are stored digitally and shaded and coloured to produce a life-like 3D image. Most 3D images are given a golden colour for aesthetic reasons.
An Ultrasound 4D Scan is produced by taking a series of 3D scans and digitally animating these to produce a moving image.
As with a traditional 2D scan, there is no risk to the mother or the baby through the use of ultrasound. If anything, because the readings are stored and analysed on a computer, there is less ultrasound exposure with a 3D scan. Even a 4D scan only creates around the same exposure levels as a standard scan.
There are many advantages to the 3D or 4D scan, both medical and emotional. For example:
- The 3D scan reveals the baby’s development in far more detail, allowing careful examination of the development of the torso, limbs, and head.
- Problems that may require early treatment, such as cleft palate, can be seen more clearly and preparations can be made.
- The 3D image has been shown to create greater bonding between mother and baby, which in turn produces many benefits for them both, and can reduce the risk of post-natal depression.
This latest technology is not yet available on the NHS, however it is very affordable privately. Costs range from as little as £95 for a 3D scan, up to £250 for a 4D ultrasound scan, complete with a souvenir DVD for you to take home and treasure.
There is a wide range of private clinics offering a 3D or 4D ultrasound scan service, staffed by qualified, reassuring professional technicians.
When you choose to have your scan is up to you, with each stage of development revealing new and heart-warming wonders as your baby grows.
The Importance of Your NHS Scans
Although your 3D or 4D ultrasound scan will be sent to your GP to be included in your case notes, it is vital that you still attend your local hospital for your routine 2D ultrasound scans. These will be part of an established care programme and your appointment may include other tests and assessments and so should not be missed.