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3D/4D Ultrasound

WebMD Medical Reference
Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD

Who Gets the Test?

3D and 4D ultrasounds are optional. They're not a standard prenatal test. Doctors often give them as a courtesy to women who want them.

Not all doctors have access to 3D or 4D ultrasounds. Your insurance may not cover the cost.

What the Test Does

Like regular ultrasounds, 3D and 4D ultrasounds use sound waves to create an image of your baby in your womb. What's different about 3D ultrasounds is that they create a three-dimensional image of your baby. 4D ultrasounds create a live video effect -- it's like a movie. You can watch your baby smile or yawn.

Parents often want 3D and 4D ultrasounds. They let you see your baby's face for the first time. Some doctors like 3D and 4D ultrasounds because they can show certain birth defects -- such as cleft palate -- that might not show up on a standard ultrasound.

The medical benefits of 3D and 4D ultrasound aren't clear. Studies suggest that 3D and 4D ultrasounds are safe. But experts worry that too much exposure to any ultrasound could cause risks. Getting an ultrasound just to see your baby's face may not be a good idea -- especially at an ultrasound center in a local mall or office building.

Talk about the pros and cons with your doctor.

How the Test Is Done

For an abdominal ultrasound, you'll lie down and a technician will put a special gel on your belly. This helps carry the sound waves. Then the technician will hold a probe against your belly and move it around to get an image.

What to Know About Test Results

Afterward, you may get photos and a copy of a 4D movie to take home. Your doctor will tell you if anything seems unusual. But keep in mind that 3D and 4D ultrasounds are not typically used to diagnose problems with your baby. Also, getting an ultrasound at a commercial center is not a substitute for medical care. The people working there may not be qualified to diagnose or rule out problems.

How Often the Test Is Done During Your Pregnancy

3D and 4D ultrasounds are optional.

Other Names for This Test

Sonogram, abdominal ultrasound, abdominal sonogram

Tests Similar to This One

Ultrasound (standard), level II ultrasound

Reviewed on May 16, 2012

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