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3D and 4D Ultrasounds during Pregnancy

During a prenatal ultrasound, most expectant parents want to see as clear a picture as possible.  Naturally, advancements to 3D and 4D ultrasound have allowed parents—not to mention obstetricians, physicians, sonographers and ultrasound technicians—to observe more details of baby developing inside the womb.

3D ultrasound of baby

“Not all doctors have access to 3D or 4D ultrasounds,” said R. Morgan Griffin for WebMD (June 2014). But certainly a number of medical facilities and hospital systems do have  the advanced ultrasound technology, as do businesses offering keepsake ultrasound services.

What are 3D and 4D Ultrasound?

Three-dimensional or 3D ultrasound has one more dimension than the traditional or standard, 2D-mode of ultrasound.

“Two dimension looks only at surface structure – we are constantly ‘chasing the baby’ to take pictures,” describes Penn Medicine’s Department of Radiology. “Three D provides the ability to look at three 90 degree planes at the same time.”

Four-dimensional or 4D ultrasound is comprised of a series of 3D image. In other words, it is like 3D in motion or like a video in real-time.

Benefits of 3D and 4D Ultrasound

3D and 4D ultrasound are better able to detect abnormalities among developing fetuses than 2D ultrasound. And these more advanced ultrasound technologies are often used to image mothers with high risk pregnancies.

Examples of abnormalities among fetuses could be physical, like a cleft palate or club feet. Penn Medicine adds that heart abnormalities can also be detected using 3D ultrasound with Doppler technology.

Additionally, more specialized ultrasound, especially 4D ultrasound, can help detect behavioral concerns, which could help diagnose brain and nervous system problems.

There is an ability to observe, measure and evaluate the behavior of the foetus and its general movements in a more comprehensive comparison with conventional ultrasound,” states Spain’s Instituto Bernabeu. “The four-dimensional ultrasound provides real-time foetal expressions (yawning, swallowing, sucking, grimacing, smiling, blinking) and various foetal movements (stretching, bending of head, isolated movements of arms and legs, etc.). It therefore allows us to study foetal neurology.”

Both the Instituto Bernabeu and Penn Medicine also mention the psychological benefits of expectant parents seeing detailed images and even their baby moving—that this can “strengthen the parental bond.”

Even though many parents would love to have a 4D ultrasound done, in medical contexts they are generally designed when “medically necessary”. Penn Medicine quotes Dr. Eileen Wang, a maternal fetal medicine specialist, as saying, “It is not a new form of baby entertainment but rather a very specialized technique which should be administered only by trained healthcare staff in a hospital or ambulatory care setting.”

3D/4D Keepsake Ultrasound Debate

You’ve probably heard of some of the keepsake ultrasound companies out there: the companies that offer 3D and/or 4D imaging to expectant parents, as well as snapshots, videos, and souvenirs–from key chains to images on top of cakes.

A number of authorities, like the FDA, American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine and the American Pregnancy Association, caution against businesses that sell these ultrasound services. Just one concern is that most states do not regulate keepsake ultrasound businesses , meaning the operators of ultrasound equipment could be inadequately trained.

In February 2015, Fox 6 News’ Stephanie Grady did well to present both sides of the keepsake ultrasound debate. On the one hand, she featured Anna Rodekur, the owner of “My First Peekaboo” in Wisconsin. According to Grady, Rodekur requires all of her clients to show proof they are already getting medical prenatal care, that she has her equipment inspected and that she encourages people to research keepsake ultrasound businesses first.

On the other hand, Grady presents the FDA’s warning against keepsake ultrasound and even features a medical expert saying these businesses are just out to make a buck and that they “prey on the fears of pregnant women.”

Still Rodekur says of My First Peekaboo, “…we create this wonderful bonding experience for parents with it.”

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