Are 3D-Ultrasound Worth the Extra Expense?

Reviewed by James Brann, MD
If you are a first-time parent, you may be overwhelmed by all of the planning, baby needs and cost of supplies. There is no doubt that having a baby is exciting, but at the same time it can really hit your wallet. At every turn there will be opportunities to jump on board with the latest “must-have” accessory, whether that is a Diaper Genie to keep poopy diapers from smelling up your whole house, or a special nursing bra to breastfeed, or a host of other advanced solutions for today’s modern parents.
One of these more recent opportunities is the chance to splurge and get a preview of your newborn baby before it arrives. This is done through the marvel of 3D and 4D technology. A 3D scan shows your baby in three dimensions, whereas the 4D scans reveal an image of the infant with time as the fourth dimension. Sometimes the excitement of motherhood and the encouragement of other people make you feel obligated to splurge on things you would not normally consider splurging on. One example is a fancy diaper bag that all but changes the baby’s diaper for you. Another is a 3D scan. Is it really worth it?
Typically when you visit the sonographer, you will get free ultrasound pictures of the fetus. This can be cool, except… what exactly are those gray fuzzy things and blurry outlines? To the untrained eye, it might be hard to decipher the difference between “heads” and “tails”. This is because a traditional 2D scan only shows the infant’s insides and outlines. A 2D scan is made of two dimensional images that are translated into a tangible image. These are usually free and part of your maternity program with the OB-Gyn.
When you hit the 26 – 30 week range, the doctors will give you an opportunity to purchase a 3D scan for an additional cost. Are these 3D sonograms worth it?

How Much Do 3D Scans Cost?

Depending on where you live, the 3D scans can be as low as $75 or as high as $200. Of course, you will find some exceptions, such as a few places that offer complimentary 3D scans as part of your maternity program. This is rare. In some areas, you may also find some areas that are more than $200, but again this is simply not common. Whether you have the budget to splurge on this is entirely up to you, and you should not feel pressured to buy it if you do not see the benefits of getting a 3D scan.

Why are they so expensive? Well, the software and specialty equipment designed to take these “inside” images are rather costly for the medical facilities, so this is how they make up the difference. Some of these machines cost well into the six figures, so you can see how they might need to take a lot of pictures to justify these costly machines.

What Are Some Advantages of 3D Scans?

Most women who do buy a 3D scan claim they are worth it. It can be very emotional and exciting to see your child for the first time and to know that a human life is brewing in your belly. It might become a special keepsake that you save in a baby book and show your child one day when they grow up. When that day comes, it will seem like a long time ago that you spent $150-ish dollars and it will no longer matter. Keepsakes are forever, just like your wedding pictures or first-time professional baby pictures.

Another advantage of these specialized 3D and 4D scans offer the ability to spot any potential birth defects or abnormalities, such as cleft palates. By knowing about this in advance, your doctors can prepare and repair the issues right after birth. The three-dimensional scans can also be helpful to review the organs and heart to ensure everything is normal.

When Can I Get a 3D Ultrasound?

The best time to get a 3D or 4D scan is between 26 – 32 weeks of your pregnancy, because prior to this your baby might be undeveloped enough to see anything more than bones, whereas after the 32 weeks it could be too late when the baby’s head moves down deeper into the mother’s pelvis making it hard to get a glimpse of the face. Some doctors suggest that 28 weeks is a good time because the fetus has enough fat to get a good look at the features. If the baby is not positioned right, such as lying face down or if there is too much amniotic fluid surrounding the head, then it will not reveal much of anything. Also if the mother has a lot of belly fat, it can be too difficult for the 3D technology to get a clear picture.

In the end, the choice is entirely up to you, but if you have the extra resources and are able to, then go ahead and see your baby… and say “Hello” to the newest member of your family for the first time!


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