Written by: Cally Worden
Since the 1960s expectant Mums and Dads have been able to see their unborn child via the use of ultrasound scans. At around 13 weeks all parents are offered the opportunity to have a 2-Dimensional (2D) scan. The resulting fuzzy, black-and-white images that are produced from this scan have a magical quality. They provide an intimate, inside view of a growing baby who, at this stage of pregnancy is still only around 7-8cm long. The body shape is still forming, but is unmistakeably human, even in these early weeks.
Original ultrasound images look a bit like a fuzzy x-ray, showing monotone images of your baby. They are used in foetal scanning; they allow medical practitioners to see the internal organs of your baby. They also provide valuable data in respect of possible foetal anomalies that may indicate a developmental issue with your baby, or the presence of known genetic conditions, such as Down’s Syndrome. They have been hugely popular among parents because they show the baby’s shape reasonably well very early in the pregnancy.
The rapid development of technology over the last two decades has exploded into all areas of life. And baby scans are no exception. The technology for 3D scanning has been around since the late 1980s, but it only became readily available to pregnant women in the 1990s. The technology was initially quite expensive, so early 3D baby scans were limited to a few select private clinics. While still not a routine part of ante-natal care, 3D scans are now much more widely available.
How do they Work?
2D ultrasound scans work by sending sound waves through your uterus. These bounce off any surfaces they hit at very slightly different times, creating echoes, the software interprets an image of the shape of the thing that has been hit (in this case your baby). 3D scans work in exactly the same way, but use 2D scans from varying angles to construct a 3D image of your baby.
These are created in much the same way as a 3D scan, but with the added dimension of time. Where 3D images are static (unmoving), a 4D scan shows 3D images in a real-time video format so you can actually see your baby moving. If you’re lucky you may get to view your baby yawning, or sticking out their tongue.
3D and 4D scans offer the chance to view a more accurate image of your baby before they are born. But they can also offer medical staff a great opportunity to check your baby over for additional detail on predicted anomalies, and other conditions that may not normally become apparent until after birth, such as a cleft lip.
Are they Safe?
Ultrasound scans generate a very small amount of heat; this is absorbed by the surfaces the sound waves come into contact with. There has been a lot of discussion about the safety of ultrasound scans recently. But experts agree that exposing a developing baby to any unnecessary external interference may have effects that are as yet unknown, so the frequency and duration of scans are limited.
Thus far there has been no evidence at all to suggest that standard ultrasound scans can harm your baby. Recent discussions have focussed on the fact that 3D and 4D scans can sometimes take a lot longer and, as yet, there is not really enough data to absolutely confirm that this is a safe to do. Nor, however, is there any evidence that it is not.
It’s natural to be concerned when it comes to taking care of your baby. It’s up to each parent to make their own call on whether to go ahead with extra scans or not. 3D and 4D scans are popular because they offer a unique opportunity to capture vivid images of your baby’s development inside the womb. And it’s almost certain that as technology continues to improve 3D and 4D scanning will grow in popularity. Who knows, one day they may become the norm!