3D and 4D ultrasound scans in pregnancy: what you need to know

We've got expert advice if you're thinking of going for a 3D or 4D baby scan

4 d scan

The wait for your baby to come is just oh-sooooo exciting 😁 – and if you’re one of those mums-to-be who simply can’t hold on the full 9 months to find out what her little one’s going to look like – 3D (3 dimensional) and 4D (moving images) scans were totally made for you, right?

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Gone are the days when the black-and-white grainy (which way up is it?) 12-week print-out scan was the only thing available for you to show loved ones the proof that your baby is here: more and more of you are deciding to go for these optional extras.

And, as you’d imagine – loads of celebs seem to be loving them too. When TOWIE’s Amy Childs was expecting her first baby, she shared this – pretty amazing – pic of her unborn child on Instagram.

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We have to say – we think this is really kind of awesome – and so up close, right? It’s no wonder they’re also called ‘bonding’ or ‘souvenir’ scans, as Jane Fisher, Director of the charity Antenatal Results and Choices, tells us.

So detailed are these scans, you see your baby’s skin rather than their insides. You may see the shape of your baby’s mouth and nose, or be able to spot them yawning or sticking their tongue out.

But, surprisingly, 3D and 4D scans use exactly the same ultrasound equipment as the 2D scans that you get on the NHS, explains sonographer Jan Steward, a director of Ultrasound Direct and Babybond. “All it means is there is a software package on the ultrasound machine that makes it either 3D or 4D.”

Well, we didn’t know that 😯

3D and 4D scans – your questions answered

Why might you want a 3D or 4D scan?

3D and 4D scans have become incredibly popular in recent years. A survey by Sainsbury’s Bank in June 2015 found that 3D scans made the list of must-have items for expectant parents along with such things as antenatals classes and car seats.

As well as being an amazing keepsake, scans can offer assurance as you’re getting a second opinion, they might confirm your baby’s gender (if you want to know), you get a bit extra in the way of photos – and of course, video, if you’re going for the 4D option.

Plus – if you go for a later scan, you might get more of an inkling about what (or should we say who) your baby will look like. And let’s face it – most of us get curious about that 😉

How do you book a 3D/4D scan?

A simple Google search produces pages of results of companies that provide them – but once you’ve found a few it’s usually best to check the scan company out before you go any further and see that they are registered with the Care Quality Commission.

Jan Stewart from scan company Ultrasound Direct says: “We would say that with any scan it is better to be with a highly experienced and trained sonographer.

“If the scan is very cheap you’re probably being seen by an ultrasound technician who will not be qualified. While the scan will hopefully be fine that person may not have the expertise to offer an opinion if there was an issue.”

You can also get recommendations from friends or even your midwife.

3D and 4D scans are actually occasionally used in the NHS in some fetal medicine units, perhaps to help with the diagnosis of cleft lip or to look at the heart and other internal organs if there are problems.

This isn’t the norm though and you’ll basically have to pay a private company if you want to get one.

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How much will they cost?

Prices vary, but generally they seem to come in at the £100 mark – though you can have cheaper and pricier packages too.

At Ultrasound Direct they start from £119 for a 30-minute appointment where you can take images and movies away at the end. Or there is a 15-minute option where you just get 3D images for £59.

if you’re keen on getting the scans, but don’t want to pay over the odds, it’s worth checking voucher companies like Groupon, who do put offers on from time to time. Go to Groupon directly or Google ‘3D and 4D scan vouchers’ and you might find a few more offers.

Forum user MummytoKandNaiNai told us: “Mine was £140 and I got a15-20min dvd,7 black-and-white photos (various sizes) and two colour photos. It was the BEST money I’ve ever spent and would do so again definitely! It’s well worth saving for as it’s something you get to keep for ever.”

Are 3D and 4D scans safe?

Yes – although the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) does advise not having them before 10 weeks.

They told us: “4D ultrasound does use a higher energy output than 2D ultrasound, the advice is to delay such scans until the second half of pregnancy.

“The RCOG does not recommend the use of 4D ultrasound for souvenir images or video recordings in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy unless with a research setting.”

Our expert Jane Fisher says: “There is no evidence to suggest that having 3D and 4D scans is any different from the other scans that you have during pregnancy.

“But you do need to know though that although the scans can provide memorable images, there is also the possibility of an anomaly being seen.”

What can I expect at my appointment?

As you are probably having this scan in later pregnancy you will probably not need a full bladder – but check before you go.

Depending on the package you’re going for the scan will take around half an hour – though ask beforehand if you want to be sure about timings.

As Nicolette from our forum shares, you may well feel anxious in the run up.

“I am a little nervous as well as excited to spend some more time looking at my baby. I am really hoping that the NHS sonographer didn’t get it wrong and it is really a girl, and also anxious that nothing horrible shows up.”

But don’t be nervous – it will feel very much the same as your other scans. Most private companies will also be very welcoming of other guests and children. This is a chance for you to bond even further with your little one so they will want to make it as special time.

When is the best time to have one?

“We think you will see the best images of your baby around 26-28 weeks,” says our expert, Jan. “This is because the amount of amniotic fluid around the baby is at its optimum about that time. By 32 weeks the fluid starts to decrease and you will not get such a good view.”

Though at private companies like Ultrasound Direct, they offer the service from 12 weeks.

There is definitely some debate among mums in our forum about when the best time is, too.

“We had one at 22 or 24 weeks with Phoebe and it was fabulous. We waited until 32 weeks with Aaron and he was all squashed,” says CKB.

Mum Knees on the other hand chose to wait longer. “I think my sister had hers at around 25/26 weeks and the pictures were good but they weren’t all very clear. Ours was at almost 29 and pictures were much better.”

What will I see?

The main difference between this scan and the 2D scans you have had on the NHS is that you’ll see your little one looking like an actual baby.

Nicolette shares her experience;

“It is definitely a girl, the sonographer had the time to show us what they look for and to point it out at different angles and there is no doubt now.

“She is, also, perfectly well and doing everything she should and has two of everything she should and her heart is beating well.

“The images are a bit weird and they take a little getting used to as they are bumpy and my little boy decided that the baby in mummy’s tummy is a monster!”

You will hear the heart beat, but the amount that your baby is moving really does depend on whether they are awake or asleep.

As Dollymumdrum found she had to give her little one some encouragement:

“When I went for a 4D scan the ladies there tried everything to get her moving. Had to go off for a walk, drink some coke, eat some ice cream, coffee whatever!

“Nothing did the trick though, she eventually rolled over when I lay on the side she was on, little mare!”

Will I get a picture afterwards?

Different companies will offer different packages, so check before you go. (The price is a good indicator of what you’ll get too – obviously the more you pay, the more you’ll leave with).

Nicolette received around 18 stills, a CD of the photos and a 20-minute DVD of the scans.

At Ultrasound Direct, for example, you’ll get colour prints and movie clips on a DVD or memory stick.


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How accurate are 3D and 4D scans when it comes to identifying the sex of my baby – could it be wrong?

Interestingly, according to the experts, identifying the sex of a baby is a lot more difficult in 3D/4D than 2D.

“Despite popular belief it is a lot harder,” says Jan. “4D is dependent on foetal position and amniotic volume. Also at the optimum time for 4D at 28 weeks the genitalia can be difficult to visualise.

“Whenever we determine the sex of a baby, it is still just a professional opinion. We would always talk through exactly what we are looking for and then show this on the screen.”

As one of our mums, Linz0209 found out, it can be a little confusing. “So last week I was told by my consultant during a 4D scan that baby was a boy, well yesterday I had another scan and was told it was a girl.

“I had an appointment with my consultant afterwards and told him about the scan, within 5 seconds he had me back on the bed to do another scan, and he reckons it’s still a boy!”

Confusing times! So all we can say is, remember – if you are told – it can never be 100%  accurate.

Can 3D and 4D scans detect problems?

As with any scan there is always the possibility of a problem being detected,” Jan tells us.”This is why it is better to be with a qualified sonographer.

“Make sure you talk to them before the scan about what will happen if an issue is detected. There should be a procedure where you are referred back to the NHS and your doctor and midwife are told.”

Are they worth it?

The choices that we make in pregnancy are completely individual. There will be some of you who wouldn’t even consider going through pregnancy without one of these scans.

“We loved our 4D scan –  was very emotional,” Sharon L told us.

 Louise O agrees: “Mine was lovely, we got to see my little one, she had her little face cradled in her hand and she was fast asleep, she was the spitting image of her brother and it was such a precious moment for us all.”

Though, not everyone’s as convinced. Recently we covered a story from a couple who found their scan pic creepy more than cute.

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Abi R agrees: “Scans are horrible and creepy!!! I could just about cope with the standard hospital one, no way would I do 4D.”

“It would freak me out tbh but then I find those scans a waste of money and creepy anyway,” said Michelle B.

So – in the end – whether or not you ant one is personal taste and entirely up to you. But if you’re looking for a good memento of pregnancy and your baby in the womb – they might just fit the bill.

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