Timing is Everything
For a 3D or 4D ultrasound, viewing is best between 24 to 34 weeks gestation because the baby has more facial tissue and skin. A baby whose ultrasound is done prior to 24 weeks gestation may look somewhat skeletal.
Before a 3D or 4D ultrasound, centers usually require women to have a prior full diagnostic ultrasound through their healthcare provider, so there are no unpleasant surprises during the ultrasound that should have been handled with a healthcare provider. For example, Grand View requires that mothers notify their doctor that they plan to have an elective 3D or 4D ultrasound. A doctor's note or phone call is also required.
"Everyone that has had an ultrasound with us has been extremely happy and finds it amazing and wonderful. It is hard to find the words to describe what happens and what is felt during the viewing experience, but there are always plenty of 'ooooohs' and 'ahhhhhs', giggles and tears of joy. Some come back a second time during their pregnancy to do it again," Sieckert says.
At Grand View, parents receive several printed pictures of the baby and a CD (for a fee of $150), which includes all still snapshots of the baby taken during the viewing. In addition, a DVD slideshow set to music is available (at an additional cost of $25). Intermingled with pictures of the baby, the DVD has pictures of the mom and dad and others present, and is taken during the viewing.
Stork Snapshots offers a similar experience with packages that include 2D, 3D, and 4D (live images). Prices at this center run from $95 to $175.
Sieckert explains that women are often disappointed with their ultrasound experience at the doctor's office because they don't understand what they are seeing on the screen, are often rushed, and don't get a chance to ask questions or find out the gender of the baby. "There is seldom enough room for family members and they are treated as an inconvenience with no regard for including them as part of the ultrasound experience," she adds.
Expecting couples should note that the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine and FDA strongly discourage the use of non-medical ultrasound because the long-term affects of repeated, longer exposures to the fetus are uncertain.
In addition, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) as a whole discourages pregnant women from using obstetric ultrasonography for nonmedical purposes. ACOG reminds parents that ultrasound technology is a sophisticated subspecialty of radiology, yet some ultrasound centers have inexperienced technicians not qualified to spot abnormalities in a fetus. Also realize that if your keepsake ultrasound identifies an abnormality, the findings may not be accurate and the facility will not likely have the resources to follow-up on this finding. The message? Be sure to treat your keepsake ultrasound as entertainment only and an emotional bonding experience with your baby-to-be, rather than feeling a false sense of security as though you've had a diagnostic ultrasound done by a highly trained technician.
Quality of Imaging
Many factors determine the quality of the images obtained. Parents should keep in mind that with ultrasound technology, the baby's position, size, and movement will often determine the ability to obtain ideal images. Parents should also inquire if the center uses certified sonographers.
While many experts note that the 3D and 4D ultrasound will not become a necessity in the average pregnancy, the technology will have an impact on research and the study of fetal embryology. "Whether 3D ultrasound will provide unique information or merely supplemental information to the conventional 2D scans remains to be seen," notes Dr. Woo.