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3D and 4D Pregnancy Ultrasounds

by Kathleen Roberts | February 25, 2008 12:00 AM
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3D and 4D Pregnancy Ultrasounds

3D and 4D ultrasounds seem to be all the rage as excited parents clamor for the first glimpse of their baby. Many of these same parents do not understand what an ultrasound actually is or what risks are involved. If you are considering one of these new ultrasound services, you need to know all the facts.

What is a 3D Ultrasound?

3D ultrasounds, developed in 1987, are similar to the traditional 2D in that they both send sound waves into the womb to generate an image of the fetus growing inside. The difference is that with the 3D ultrasound, the sound waves are sent at different angles instead of straight down.

A computer program is used to process these sound waves as they bounce back to generate a clearer picture of baby. Abnormalities are easier to see and features of the baby are much more distinguishable. Unlike 2D ultrasounds, parents can easily see their baby's face, fingers, toes and even gender without needing the technician to tell them what each blob on the screen actually is.

What is a 4D Ultrasound?

4D ultrasounds are even more exciting to parents because they show the actual movement of their baby. Manufacturers of this ultrasound equipment promote their service as a bonding experience which allows parents the first video of their child—on DVD or VHS.

This type of ultrasound is generally not ordered by your doctor. It is not used for medical purposes at all in fact. It is simply a business that caters to the hearts of expectant parents. 4D ultrasounds are performed by trained technicians who squirt that gooey gel on the abdomen of the mother and look for a good picture, much like the photographer who takes your family pictures. This isn't about verifying the health of the baby; it's about getting that first keepsake and selling it to excited parents.

How Much Do 3D and 4D Ultrasounds Cost?

Getting your baby's first video is pricey, but probably not more so than getting a professional set of family pictures done. Just like your local portrait studio, ultrasound imaging studios offer packages. Packages can range in price from $ 120 to $ 400 along with various add-ons that can be hard to resist.

The bigger cost may be the risks involved in these new types of ultrasound. Since 1993, the allowable levels of ultrasound have risen over 1000 times that which was previously considered a safe level. Despite the fact that manufacturers and franchises of this new trend insist that there is no evidence of risk, others disagree.

In 1999, the American Institute of Ultrasound Medicine (AIUM) strongly discouraged the non-medical use of ultrasound equipment going so far as to call it irresponsible and unethical. Additionally, in 2004 the FDA stated that it was an unapproved use for a medical device. They went on to say that a diagnostic ultrasound device is a prescription device and that use without a prescription may be a violation of state and local laws. Also in 2004, legislation was introduced to prohibit the non-medical use of ultrasound for "entertainment purposes". So, what's all the commotion about?

Risks of Ultrasound

The fact is that ultrasound can cause adverse effects. High frequency sound waves not only generate heat, they also cause secondary vibrations that generate a loud, up to 100 decibel, sound which startles the fetus, causing movement.

Other effects caused by ultrasounds include bubbles in tissues and the creation of small amounts of toxic chemicals. Animal studies have shown other adverse reactions as well. In humans, side-effects observed include retardation of growth, delayed speech development and even dyslexia.

Interestingly, ultrasounds have also been linked to left-handedness in boys. This sounds like a harmless side-effect but it actually can be worse than it sounds. Left-handedness in boys has itself been linked to learning problems, epilepsy and autism. It is thought that this may only be the beginning of even worse problems down the road. Being born left-handed when a child would have genetically been right-handed is due to mild brain-damage. This fact alone should make any expectant parent think twice before submitting to any non-medical ultrasound. The choice is yours. Is it worth the risk?

Click here to see a video showing the development of a fetus during the 40 weeks of pregnancyKathleen Roberts is a freelance writer and editor as well as the mother of five children. She writes about pregnancy, parenting, gardening and natural living. Kathleen enjoys spending as much time as she can in the outdoors with her family in the Florida Keys where she enjoys scuba diving, bicycling and anything else that will allow her to interact with nature.

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