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The Rise of 4D Baby Scans

Posted on 04.01.2018

It wasn’t too long ago that a baby scan meant a grainy 2D black and white ‘flat’ image; a picture that was difficult to determine which way up the baby was, and what its legs and arms were.
Now, the most important milestone in your pregnancy has progressed thanks to technology – the 4D baby scan.
3D scans show still images of a baby in the womb in three dimensions, whilst 4D scans show moving 3D images, with time being the fourth dimension. Unlike the standard 2D scans, 4D allows parents to see the skin of their baby, as opposed to their beating heart. These new scans show such details as the shape of the baby’s nose, facial expressions and even yawning, making it a more personal experience, rather than a solely medical one.
Parents have praised this increasingly popular technology, with many expectant mothers saying that the procedure was a positive experience. Some mums-to-be have emphasised that with the help of personable sonographers, the process is focussed on bonding with their baby. Parents can come away with a souvenir DVD of the moving images, some still shots of the baby and a newer, deeper bond with their child.
Is 4D ultrasound safe for baby?
Professionals don’t recommend having 3D or 4D scans just for souvenir photographs and recordings. The reason for this is that these scans expose babies to more ultrasound than is usually medically required. Some private ultrasound scans can be as long as 45mins-1hr, which may exceed the recommended safety limits.
Ultrasound has been used safely for diagnostic purposes for over 50 years and is an essential tool in many areas of medicine and healthcare. Nonetheless, with the rise in popularity of ultrasound for souvenir baby scan images, unknown risks could be incurred. The Health Protection Agency has stated that more research is needed to clear up the uncertainties. Until then, it’s advised parents should weigh up these unknown risks against having a souvenir photo of their baby in its early development.
The future of baby scans
3D and 4D scans can – and do – have an important medical usage. As these detailed scans show the baby’s skin, and show it from different angles, they can help diagnose a cleft lip. Even if a cleft lip has been diagnosed before the scan, having one after can ease some of the distress parents may experience after a diagnosis, along with helping doctors to gauge the extent of the cleft lip and prepare for the repair.
A wonderful example of how 3D scans can help parents-to-be was in 2015. Brazilian Tatiana Guerra, 30, was unable to enjoy the experience of traditional baby scans due to her blindness. However, with the help of a mobile 3D-printing station, doctors were able to surprise her with a 3D printed bust that enabled her to ‘see’ her unborn child through touch. This is a heart-warming demonstration of how 3D and 4D baby scans can enhance people’s pregnancy experience, and their lives as a whole.
The special transducers and supporting software required for 3D and 4D scans, like most advanced technology, is expensive. With this in mind, it’s unlikely that these scans will replace standard 2D scans used for routine maternity care but it’s certainly something sonographers (both NHS and private) need to take note of.
Becky Honisett, MedicsPro Sonography Recruitment Manager, comments,
“Imaging services have gone through huge changes over the last ten years with 4D scanning becoming increasingly popular especially in the Private Sector. As a national provider of Sonography staff, we have noted there are more private companies offering this service than ever and the roles within these companies have become highly sought after.”
If you’re a sonographer looking for their next career move, please do get in touch with Becky Honisett via email:
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