What's involved in a 3D ultrasound?
A 3D ultrasound takes thousands of pictures of the baby at one time. These are then translated by computer into three-dimensional images which are almost as clear as a real-life photograph. These still pictures of your baby mean that you can see your baby in three dimensions, rather than two.
There is a depth and shape to a 3D image, giving a clarity which is not as evident in a 2D ultrasound. This is because a 2D ultrasound sees through the baby to its internal organs and tissues. With a 3D and even 4D ultrasound, the baby's skin can be seen so there is more of a realistic shape and form to the images. This is particularly clear when looking at the baby's face and delicate features.
With 3D ultrasounds, both the transducer used to transmit the sound waves and the computer software are more advanced and complex. A 3D ultrasound is more expensive.
How are 2D and 3D ultrasounds different?
Once these pictures are stored and shaded by the computer, they can be seen on the screen as clearer, three-dimensional images. The width, height and depth of the baby and its internal organs can be seen very clearly. With 3D ultrasound the baby has a more realistic shape and form, with distinctly baby-type features. They look exactly as they would if they were already born, only smaller of course.
Parents need to rely less on their imagination with a 3D ultrasound. It's as if all the 2D images have been filled in and puffed out so the image is quite clearly a baby, rather than a grainy image on the screen.
What's the benefit of having a 3D ultrasound?
Performing a 3D ultrasound requires a high level of clinical skill and expertise. Unlike a 2D ultrasound, a 3D ultrasound requires the transducer to be held still and steady while the sound echoes bounce back. They are then interpreted by the computer software. If you have had a 2D ultrasound previously you will find the imagery very different.
When is the best time for me to have a 3D ultrasound?
Some clinics claim that past 30 weeks of gestation, the baby's head is more likely to engage in the mother's pelvis so visualizing the face can be more difficult. But this really depends on the individual clinic and their own practice guidelines.
How long will it take to have my 3D ultrasound?
Why can’t I see more of my baby?
If, at the beginning of the scan, your baby is facing away from the transducer, keep your fingers crossed that baby will move or rotate into a clearer position before the scan is finished. If your baby is curled up tightly, facing your back or has their hands covering their face, then you won’t be able to see much of their features.
The sonographer may suggest you get up and go for a little walk or have a cold drink, talk to your baby, or gently massage your abdomen. These strategies may help to encourage your baby to move into another position.
Options available at some 3D ultrasound clinics
Benefits of having a 3D ultrasound compared to a 2D ultrasound
Some parents find that having 3D ultrasound helps them to bond with their baby before birth. Having a clear view of their baby's face and features, looking for family likenesses, knowing the baby's gender and being able to see their baby makes a big difference.
At the time of the 3D ultrasound, some parents choose to name their baby and see this as a unique opportunity to build early emotional attachment. Yet for others, they are happy to wait until when their baby is born to meet for the first time.
The information of this article has been reviewed by nursing experts of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, & Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN). The content should not substitute medical advice from your personal healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations/diagnosis or treatment. For more advice from AWHONN nurses, visit Healthy Mom&Baby at health4mom.org.