Ultrasounds, sometimes referred to as sonograms, are medical tests that use high frequency sound waves to produce pictures of the organs in the body. In the case of pregnancy, ultrasounds are routinely prescribed to produce an image of the fetus. A 4D ultrasound uses a special sonogram machine and takes images from a few different angles, which reveal more detailed images of the fetus, such as facial features. It can also capture movements made by the baby during the procedure.
A standard ultrasound only provides a two-dimensional image of the fetus. They are usually ordered in pregnancy for a variety of reasons, such as evaluating development of the baby, determining gestational age, and identifying any abnormalities. Although the standard ultrasound produces a picture of the fetus, it may take a trained sonographer or other medical professional to identify features and body parts. Keepsake photos are given to the patient, but they are often grainy.
Occasionally, a two-dimensional ultrasound may indicate a problem and a more sophisticated 4D ultrasound is needed to confirm an abnormality. For many pregnant women, there is no medical need for this test, but the mom-to-be wants to get a better look at her baby. Most centers that perform this type of ultrasound, recommend the test is performed after 25 weeks gestation, at which point, the baby is usually big enough to see its features clearly.
Standard ultrasounds are ordered by a healthcare professional and performed at a clinic, a doctor's office, or at an ultrasound imaging center. 4D ultrasounds do not require a specific order and are often done at a private ultrasound business, which specializes in keepsake images. The procedure is non-invasive and takes about 20 minutes to complete.
After a conductive gel is applied to the abdomen, the procedure is done by gliding a transducer over the pregnant women’s abdomen. A monitor is within view, allowing the woman to view the fetus and watch as the ultrasound is completed. The mom is given a keepsake photo and video of the baby.
The US Food and Drug Administration regulates the level of energy used in ultrasound machines. Although they are considered safe, many medical professionals believe medically unnecessary ultrasounds should be avoided. This has caused some debate regarding elective procedures.
Due to the fact that 4D machines create a higher quality image, there is some concern that the energy level used by them may be higher, although this has not been proven. Women who do want a keepsake photo and opt for a 4D ultrasound should make sure that the technician performing the test is a licensed sonographer. It's also best for women considering the procedure to talk to a medical professional regarding any safety concerns.