3D/4D ultrasound scans

Find out what 3D and 4D ultrasound scans are and how they enable you to see your baby moving in the womb.
Ultrasound scans work by using high frequency sound waves to create images. These waves travel through soft tissue such as skin and amniotic fluid but are reflected by denser surfaces. As sound waves are reflected differently by different matters, their 'echoes' can be built up to produce a clear image of a growing foetus.

Traditional ultrasounds send out waves from only one aspect and so create a flat two dimensional image. 3D ultrasound scans capture 3 dimensional images by directing sound waves from multiple angles. These give a much clearer view of the developing baby and are often used by doctors when medical reassurance or intervention is needed. 3D images enable you to not only identify your baby's limbs and other large bodily structures, but if baby is at the right angle, give you a clear view of your baby's facial features so you can tell whether he is going to have your eyes or your partner's nose before you meet him for the first time.

By taking 3D images of a foetus in rapid succession and animating them, a 4D ultrasound is formed. This adds the dimension of time to the ultrasound so baby's movements in the womb can be clearly captured.

The use of 4D ultrasound has taught us a lot about baby's development in the womb. We now know that a foetus can kick and stretch as early as 12 weeks and that the eyelids open and blinking starts at about 18 weeks; 8 weeks earlier than the 26 weeks previously thought. We now know that by 26 weeks foetuses exhibit all of the behaviours you would typically associate with a new baby.

Although 4D scans are not yet available on the NHS, they can be booked privately, although these tend to be taken from a more speculative rather than medical angle, so regular ultrasounds by your obstetrician are necessary too. However, 4D scans do give you the unique opportunity to see your baby living in your womb and can be a wonderful bonding experience for all of the family.

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