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Pregnancy Bliss | Reproductive Health Hub

Early trimester Placenta and fluid 20 weeks scan Safety Uses in pregnancy Limitations 4D scans Fetal gender

3D and 4D baby scans

By Dr J Kabyemela, MD

What is 3D Ultrasound?

As the name suggests, this is ultrasound scanning that gives you a three-dimensional image. This therefore represents a static image in three dimension as opposed to the traditional 2 dimensional image. It also differs from a 4D scan as we shall see immediately below.

What is 4D Ultrasound?

This is 3D ultrasound with an added (fourth) dimension which is motion. Whilst in 3D scanning the image is static, in 4D, the images are moving. A 4D baby scan therefore allows the examiner and the mother to see the baby and all its activities in real time.

Is this a different type of Ultrasound technology and is it safe?

3D and 4D scanning utilises the same technology as the traditional 2D  scanning. It has been around for several years but it is only recently with the advent of much more computing power and consequently the coming down of the technology cost that it has come into the mainstream. Before that it was only confined to research units because of prohibitive costs. Like traditional 2D ultrasound, it is regarded to be perfectly safe.

What is this type of scan used for?

In pregnancy care, 4D ultrasound does not yet offer the doctors much more than what traditional 2D scanning has always offered. It is a lot different for the prospective parents though. There is no doubt that traditional ultrasound images could be quite difficult for the untrained eye to work out.

Whilst it has always been the case that images of a moving unborn baby is deeply fulfilling for parents, 4D scanning moves this to a completely new level. The images are a lot more life-like and quite impressive. Parents can certainly appreciate all that the baby is up to almost as much as the medical personnel.

In the UK, 4D scanning is not available on the NHS. Why is this?

It is true that routine 4D baby scanning is not   currently available on the NHS. This is for the reason mentioned above that, for diagnostic purposes, it does not presently offer significantly more that traditional 2D ultrasound. Moreover, the machines for performing this type of scan do require a significant financial outlay and presently there is no real justification for this.

It is said that 4D ultrasound is very good for pre-natal bonding. Is there any evidence for this?

There has been a lot of scientific studies over the years to see the benefits of ultrasound scan in pregnancy apart from the obvious medical ones. Several of these have shown that indeed, the visualization of a moving image of the baby on screen does provoke deep parental emotions.

With the advent of wide-spread availability of 4D ultrasound scanning and the life-like moving images it provides, further studies have been done to look at this aspect of bonding and on balance many seem to confirm this. Some summarized study results can be found here.

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