Congratulations on your pregnancy! Is it a boy or a girl? Well, there is one way to find out - get an ultrasound. Of course, there are a lot more reasons to get an ultrasound than just finding out the gender of your baby. An ultrasound will help the doctor check the baby’s development; alert him/her to any problems in the uterus, ovaries, and cervix; check the level of amniotic fluid; look for signs of Down syndrome; and many more. The question is, what kind of ultrasound should you get - 2D, 3D, or 4D?
Now, standard prenatal tests do not include 3D and 4D ultrasounds. These are optional and not all doctors are able to offer these services. Also, your insurance may not cover this test unless your believes it’s necessary. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t avail of it. To help you decide what type of ultrasound to get, we’ll briefly discuss the differences between all three as well as the pros and cons of each one.
Types of Ultrasounds
All 3 types - 2D, 3D, 4D - make use of sound waves to create a picture of what’s inside your womb. The one we are all familiar with is the traditional 2D or 2-dimensional ultrasound. With a 2D ultrasound, you get black and white images that look flat and show outlines of the baby’s body. This type of ultrasound scans right through the baby’s body, revealing his/her internal organs which can help diagnose potential internal issues such as heart defects.
A 3D ultrasound, as the name suggests, provides you with a 3-dimensional image of your baby. How does this work? Basically, the same way that a 2D ultrasound does. What happens here is that the machine will be taking multiple 2D images of your baby in utero and then using a computer software to create that 3D image. With a 3D image, the doctor is able to see certain facial features which increases the chances of diagnosing defects such as a cleft lip or palate. Neural tube and skeletal defects are also easier to diagnose with a 3D image.
A 4D ultrasound scan is actually just a live streaming video of the 3D images which means you’re able to see your baby yawn, maybe suck on his thumb. Take note that the procedure is still the same as other types of ultrasound. You still lie on your back while the specialist places clear ultrasound gel on your lower abdomen and starts scanning using the probe. The main difference in procedure is that the sessions tend to be longer. Now, with a 4D ultrasound, the benefits are the same like being able to detect spinal defects. But doctors are also able to see how the fetal heart wall and valves are working as well as check the motion of the other internal organs and the blood flow.
So, what’s the problem?
3D and 4D ultrasounds are generally safe because the procedure is the same; it’s non-invasive. Also, studies have shown that there are no adverse effects to getting a 3D or 4D ultrasound. In fact, as we’ve already mentioned, these two types of ultrasounds are helpful in enabling doctors to closely examine suspected fetal anomalies while the baby is in utero. However, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) still insists that while studies have not shown any reliable evidence pertaining to the dangers of ultrasound to a developing fetus, there may be unknown risks. Also, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that the tissues of the body become slightly heated as the ultrasound enters the body. This can cause small pockets of gas in your tissues or body fluids to pop up. The effects of this are currently unknown but should not be discounted.
What do all that mean? Well, if you're planning on getting a 3D or 4D ultrasound scan just to get a photo op with your baby, you should probably hold off on that. This is especially true if your doctor or midwife has not recommended the test and you're choosing to go with a commercial company that promises to give you a prenatal memento. Aside from the risk factor due to the longer sessions, there’s also the fact that commercial ultrasounds are typically performed by technicians who have no medical background to provide you with information regarding the results or spot any problems with your baby.
If you really want to get a 3D or 4D ultrasound scan, check with your doctor first. Once he has given permission, make sure that you limit your visit to just one (the lesser exposure, the better) and the session should be no more than 15 minutes in length.