3D and 4D Ultrasounds

Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on December 15, 2020

Who Gets the Test?

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

Not all doctors have access to 3D or 4D ultrasounds. Also, 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 is that 3D ultrasounds create a three-dimensional image of your baby, while 4D ultrasounds create a live video effect, 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.

Studies suggest that 3D and 4D ultrasounds are safe. Plus, the images can help doctors spot a problem with your baby and make it easier for them to explain it to you.

The concern comes with companies that offer keepsake ultrasounds. Groups like the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists caution that too much exposure to any ultrasound may not be good for your baby. 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 that may or may not employ highly skilled technicians.

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 certain 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 or a copy of a 4D movie to take home. Your doctor will tell you if anything seems unusual.

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

Show Sources


American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "Ultrasound Exams."

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "Nonmedical Use of Obstetric Ultrasonography."

Association for Medical Ultrasound: "Keepsake Fetal Imaging."

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: "New Dimensions in Prenatal Ultrasound: 3D and 4D."

FDA: "Avoid Fetal 'Keepsake' Images, Heartbeat Monitors."

Mark I. Evans MD, Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Mount. Sinai School of Medicine, New York, N.Y.

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