3D Ultrasound - What is it and how does it work?

Who Gets the Test?

3D and 4D ultrasounds are optional. They're not standard prenatal tests. Doctors often give them as a courtesy to women who want them. Not all doctors have access to 3D or 4D ultrasounds. Also, your insurance may not cover the cost.

What the Test Does:

Like regular ultrasounds, 3D and 4D ultrasounds use sound waves to create an image of your baby in your womb. What's different is that 3D ultrasounds create a three-dimensional image of your baby, while 4D ultrasounds create a live video effect, like a movie -- you can watch your baby smile or yawn.

Parents often want 3D and 4D ultrasounds. They let you see your baby's face for the first time. Some doctors like 3D and 4D ultrasounds because they can show certain birth defects, such as cleft palate, that might not show up on a standard ultrasound.

Studies suggest that 3D and 4D ultrasounds are safe. Plus, the images can help doctors spot a problem with your baby and make it easier for them to explain it to you.

How the Test Is Done:

For an abdominal ultrasound, you'll lie down and a technician will put a certain gel on your belly. This helps carry the sound waves. Then the technician will hold a probe against your belly and move it around to get an image.

What to Know About Test Results:

Afterward, you may get photos or a copy of a 4D movie to take home. Your doctor will tell you if anything seems unusual.

Keep in mind that 3D and 4D ultrasounds are not typically used to diagnose problems with your baby. Also, getting an ultrasound at a commercial center is not a substitute for medical care. The people working there may not be qualified to diagnose or rule out problems.

How Often the Test Is Done During Your Pregnancy:

3D and 4D ultrasounds are optional.

Other Names for This Test:

Sonogram, abdominal ultrasound, abdominal sonogram

Tests Similar to This One:

4D Ultrasound, 5D/HD Ultrasound

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