3D or 4D: Which Ultrasound Is Right for Me?

Whether it’s your first pregnancy or your third, getting that initial look at your baby’s face can be a magical moment. Does she have your nose? Are those his father’s ears? Will she have her grandmother’s dimples?

Once you see your baby for the first time, you can picture them in their crib sleeping peacefully or sitting in their highchair eating Cheerios. Suddenly, the arrival of your bundle of joy feels more real, and you feel that strong mother-baby bond starting to grow.

Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care, the premier OB/GYN organization in Hampton Roads, can give you that first glimpse of your little one. With 3D and 4D ultrasound, our experts can let you know what your baby looks like before your due date.

4D vs 3D: Which Is the Better Ultrasound for Me?

But before you call your doctor’s office for an appointment, it’s important to understand there is more than one type of ultrasound. This can help you decide which is the right ultrasound option for you.

When you think of an ultrasound for your baby, you probably think of a 2D ultrasound. It’s been used for decades to check your baby’s growth and identify major problems. Other options –3D and 4D ultrasounds – are available later in pregnancy. These scans let you see the shape of your baby’s face and how they move.

But they may not be medically necessary.

What Is Ultrasound Technology?

Ultrasound, also called sonography, is a non-invasive, radiation-free technology that uses sound waves to capture pictures. In obstetrics and gynecology, ultrasound scans (sonograms) take an image of the baby, including their internal organs, blood vessels, and muscles.

Ultrasound scans are real-time imaging. These pictures give you the opportunity to see how your baby is growing and moving at the moment.

Typically conducted in your doctor’s office, ultrasound exams are simple. Most exams are scheduled during your second trimester between 18 weeks and 22 weeks. While you lie on your back on a table, a technician called a sonographer spreads a special type of gel that can carry sound waves on your belly. Using a probe, called a transducer, connected to the ultrasound machine, they can take an image of your baby.

Ultrasound shows you a lot of detail about your unborn child. Medical professionals use these scans to check your baby for abnormalities and potential congenital disabilities. Sonographers also record your baby’s measurements to help check your due date.

4D Ultrasound, 3D Ultrasound, and 2D Ultrasound: What’s the Difference?

In obstetrics, 3D ultrasound and 4D ultrasound are very similar. But they do have one distinct difference. With a 3D scan, you get a photo of your baby. Alternatively, 4D scans give you a video of your little one in real-time motion.

More specifically, 3D ultrasound captures 2D images of the baby from different angles and converts them into a three-dimensional image of your baby that looks more like a regular photograph. It gives you a better look at the shape of your baby’s features. A three-dimensional image can also be collected for various medical purposes.

A 4D ultrasound uses the same 3D ultrasound imaging but adds in motion to produce that video. You can see fingers and toes wiggle, or you may catch your baby sticking out her tongue.

Both 3D ultrasound and 4D ultrasound offer some advantages over the 2D traditional ultrasound typically used in obstetrics. The image quality is much lower with 2D ultrasound images. They look like X-ray pictures – blurry, still pictures that show up in black, grey, and white. The amniotic fluid is black, and your baby’s muscles and other tissues are grey. The white images are bone.

Healthcare providers opt for these ultrasound scans because they are efficient – your doctor will get a good picture of how your baby is growing. A 2D ultrasound doesn’t offer as many details, though, so it can be harder for parents to understand what’s wrong if their provider sees a congenital disability or abnormality. One significant benefit to consider is that these ultrasound exams are also covered by most insurance companies.

Do I need a 4D Ultrasound or a 3D Ultrasound?

Ultrasound scans are typically scheduled during your second trimester, and 2D ultrasounds are considered the standard of care. Choosing to undergo a 3D ultrasound or 4D ultrasound is completely optional. They occur in the third trimester – between 27 weeks and 32 weeks – because the baby has developed more.

If you’re interested in getting a clearer picture of your baby’s face, talk with your doctor and check with your insurance company. Many insurance providers don’t cover these imaging options. That means you’ll pay for it out of pocket.

Still, there are some medical benefits to these scans. The extra level of detail with 3D ultrasound imaging can more easily reveal a cleft lip, giving your doctor more time to prepare proper treatment. Providers can also get a better look at the location of your placenta, as well as the structure of your baby’s heart and other internal organs. They can also evaluate their spinal cord.

The case is slightly different with 4D ultrasound. Because it incorporates video, alongside seeing cleft lips more clearly and locating the placenta and the structures of your baby’s heart, your provider can monitor your baby’s blood flow for any problems. However, instead of a medically beneficial scan, many obstetricians and gynecologists view these videos as a keepsake of your pregnancy. The FDA also discourages you from having a 3D or 4D scan for non-medical reasons.

Are 3D and 4D Ultrasounds Safe?

Yes. Both 3D and 4D ultrasounds have been approved by the FDA. In addition, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports there are currently no identified risks to undergoing either scan.

If you opt to have one, though, be sure it’s being done by a medical professional – a trained sonographer.

Although the exams are safe, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does warn of risks if you have a 3D or 4D ultrasound done outside of a healthcare setting. Keep these things in mind:

  • Sonographer experience: If you choose somewhere other than your doctor’s office for a 3D or 4D ultrasound, there’s a possibility the person performing the scan won’t have as much training as a sonographer. Their job and focus are to capture the best pictures or videos they can for you. If they see something odd, they may not have the knowledge to adequately explain it. This could increase your anxiety and send you to the doctor for a repeated scan.
  • Cost: As mentioned earlier, most insurance providers do not cover these uses of ultrasound technology. So, if you make an appointment, be sure to bring your debit or credit card. The price tag will depend on the package you purchase. Some locations will charge less than $100 for a single 3D image of your baby. The cost can rise into the hundreds for several visits and results in a keepsake DVD set to music. Remember, the FDA warns against using ultrasound in this way.
  • Safety: Ultrasound technology doesn’t use radiation, so it’s inherently safer than other types of imaging. But you must still be careful because it does rely on sound waves that can create heat. Your doctor’s office will control the settings on the ultrasound machine to be sure the impact on your baby is limited. Other locations may not know the optimal machine settings to reduce exposure.
  • Parent Expectations: Because many 3D and 4D ultrasounds are conducted to give parents a sneak peek of their baby, fulfilling the wishes of Mom and Dad can play a big role in capturing these images. If a baby is hiding their face or if they are turned at an angle, it can take longer to get a clear picture. That extra time can also increase your baby’s exposure.

Choosing Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care for your 3D or 4D ultrasound lets, you avoid all those risks. Our trained Physicians and sonographers can perform a safe, efficient medical ultrasound that can give you what you want – that first look at your baby.

To book your appointment, call our experienced Physicians at 757-455-8833 or fill out our online contact form, and we’ll be in touch immediately!