For every expectant mother, an ultrasound is the week by week way to discover information from early on in your pregnancy about your baby. That information might be about your due date, the placement of your placenta, whether you're having a girl or a boy, or simple health assessments. As technology has developed, so have the abilities of ultrasound - from the traditional two dimensional ultrasounds, to the three dimensional ultrasound which offers you a more realistic view of your baby. Conventional ultrasound, usually offered to mothers at 12 and 20 weeks, produces 2D images of the developing foetus. Through 3D ultrasound week by week, you will find out more and more about your baby.
Through the use of technology, keeping up with your pregnancy with the use of 3D ultrasound pregnancy scans makes the experience of pregnancy much more fulfilling - for both mum and dad.
Using a technique called surface rendering, 3D ultrasound scanning uses a slightly different shaped transducer (probe that is moved over your tummy) to the traditional 2D (black and white) transducer. This is due to the alignment of crystals inside the transducer which unlike the 2D transducer which are positioned in a straight line, these are positioned in a oblique, transverse and longitudinal arrangement. This allows a 3D scanned image to have more information sent back to the transducer.
Ultrasound fetal development week 12
Ultrasound scans in early pregnancy are usually performed in the first trimester at around 12 weeks. You may have a earlier scan, if you are experiencing pain or bleeding for example or unsure of LMP dates.
It is recommended that all pregnant women have a scan in the first trimester, to establish the date when the baby is due, check the number of babies and also check the position of the placenta.
First trimester ultrasonic scans may show 'soft' markers for chromosomal abnormalities, such as the absence of fetal nasal bone or an increased fetal nuchal translucency (back of the neck) to enable detection of Down syndrome fetuses.
While your sonographer takes measurements they will explain what you are looking at. It may not be easy for you to make out what you are seeing on the screen in the early scans.
Your baby will now start to exercise its arms and legs and is the size of a kiwi and weighs around 15g (that's around a tablespoon). The foetus now tries to move forward in the same way a new baby would if held upright. Her muscles and bones are developing.
Ultrasound fetal development Week 15
Once you get to the second trimester, you can actually start to see more detail in the 3D ultrasound pregnancy photos. Your baby can move hands, clench fists and yawn - a baby often starts to suck its thumb at this stage too. You may also see that the baby scratches, rubs, or pats himself with his fingers and hands. During this trimester, you can often tell the sex of the baby, which can be quite exciting for any expectant mother or father. The movements that you see through the use of these scans can depict pictures and video much like the movements that you may see once your baby is born.
The second trimester is the best time to have these scans done, because the baby is just the right size that you can see all of the special features. You will also see opening and closing of eyes, including blinking. The first trimester will allow you to see some things, but if you want to see more detail, then you should opt for this scan during the second trimester. The third trimester, the baby is often too big to be able to see the full body on the screen during the scan. This is yet another reason why people choose to have this done during the second trimester.
It is sometimes a good idea to use this technology as a way to keep up with your pregnancy from month to month. Doing this, you can actually have a 3D ultrasound pregnancy journal. Keeping up with photos from one month to another will not only allow you to see the stages of fetal development. You will even have somewhat of an idea of the features that they will have when they are born, which is unlike anything that has ever been available before.
The foetus weighs around 50-70g and is the size of a baby sweetcorn. The baby's hair pattern is also developing and the heart is now pumping around 25 litres of blood a day - this increases to 300 by time it's born.
Ultrasound safety in pregnancy
While there's no strong evidence to suggest that 3D ultrasound harms babies, there is a small amount of research that suggests a few babies could be affected. Some people think that more long-term research needs to be done in order to make sure ultrasound is safe, but others feel it is so widely used that any serious problems would have shown up by now, babyworld says.
In terms of accuracy in detecting problems with your baby, ultrasound scanning depends on:
"Ultrasound machines are getting better in that the resolution of images is improving but the accuracy of the results still depends to a large extent on the ability of the person using the machine," says independent sonographer Sally Hill who runs diagnostic ultrasound services for several NHS trusts in the south east of England.
Although scans are a useful aid, they can only supply a certain amount of information and they may miss small problems while identifying anomalies that rectify themselves by the time your baby is born.
What problems can they detect?
Depending on the type of scan you are having, the results may be diagnostic - it could show, for example, that your baby's brain hasn't formed properly (anencephaly) or that he has a gap in his spine (spina bifida). However, your scan is much more likely to act as a screening test which means that it may provide some evidence of developmental or medical problems that need further investigation.
Perhaps the hardest abnormalities to spot (and, therefore, most often missed) in unborn babies are heart defects. According to Echo, the charity supporting effective cardiac health in obstetrics, only 25 to 30 percent of infant heart problems are diagnosed before birth in the UK. The heart is the most complex in the human body and at 18-22 weeks of pregnancy (when the anomaly scan is done) is only the size of a peanut. But, with the right training and equipment, it is possible to check all of the heart's internal and external detail using computer- enhanced ultrasound and new technology may provide more help in this area in future.
Ultrasound fetal development 34 weeks 3D ultrasound
It is recommended that 3D ultrascans are usually performed after 24 weeks up to 34 weeks, when more animated facial images can be seen.
How much does 3D ultrasound cost?
3D fetal ultrasound pregnancy scans are now widely available in the private sector. A private 3D ultrasound or 4D ultrasound scan in the UK will last around one hour and cost around GBP£180 to GBP£250, according to Private Healthcare UK.