Should you get a private ultrasound scan? Is multiple scanning dangerous for your unborn child?
These questions and many others can be overwhelming with this new chapter in your life! But, that’s what I am here for – for answers to these and many other questions, keep reading!
If you’re expectant parents, I know just how excited you are about seeing your baby!
And of course, it would be awesome if you could see your little one in a more lifelike form than the one provided by the 2-D ultrasound from your doctor’s office.
That is one of the main reasons why private ultrasound scans have become extremely popular among parents, but before getting one (or a few), there are some things that need to be considered!
You probably already know that there is a wide array of private ultrasound facilities offering 3-D ultrasound and 4-D ultrasound services across the globe.
A quick Google search on “private ultrasound near me” provided so many options that I’d need a day just to make a decision about which one to choose.
But, despite the availability and popularity of these fetal keepsake images and videos, there are many warnings about the potential dangers of them.
From unregulated ultrasound scan providers to potential pregnancy complications due to multiple scanning, here is everything you need know before deciding to go for a private scan (or scans):
1. The Difference Between 2-D, 3-D, 4-D, And HD Ultrasounds
Ultrasound works on the principle of using sound waves to create an image of your little one in the womb. From 2-D to HD, different ultrasounds provide individual experiences:
A 2-D ultrasound is the traditional black and white ultrasound image representing a flat cross-sectional view of your little one.
This type of ultrasound is typically done at a doctor’s office. With 2-D ultrasounds, you can see through the baby and her organs, as well as visualize their skeletal system.
This can help you to acquire information about your baby’s heart rate, and growth measurements, as well as to detect any potential irregularities.
3-D / 4-D ultrasound
3-D ultrasounds use multiple 2-D images that are taken from different angles and then puts them together to create a 3-D (three-dimensional) image. 3-D ultrasound images allow you to see your little one’s outer appearance.
Now, do you know what happens when you combine a 3-D image with time? 4-D movements happen!
Yes, 4-D ultrasound is more advanced and it shows the baby’s movement in real-life motion (opening and closing of eyes, kicking, etc).
You can also see your baby’s facial expressions such as sucking the thumb or toe, yawning, and more!
Now you’re probably wondering why people don’t use 3-D and 4-D as a standard ultrasound session, right? The answer is simple.
While 3-D can allow you to see your baby’s external appearance, 2-D is the standard (developed by experts) for uncovering any irregularities and for tracking your little one’s development.
Still, there are some things that can’t be seen on 2-D ultrasounds and that’s when 3-D and 4-D come in handy. For example, if your baby has a cleft lip, this can only be seen in 3-D and 4-D ultrasound scans.
Given that such scans provide better visualization, they are also helpful when doctors and sonographers need to describe and explain any abnormality to parents.
HD (High Definition) is the newest technology in the realm of ultrasounds. HD ultrasound imaging allows you to see the real skin tone and the baby’s face as if they were right in front of you.
Due to the light source that is adjustable, the HD live system allows the operator to play with shadowing and lighting effects creating a genuine display of your baby’s face.
Such images are smoother and more realistic than the ones in 2-D, 3-D, or 4-D.
Best of all is that you can also see your baby’s facial expressions such as smiling or when they’re yawning.
Yes, you can also see that in 3-D and 4-D, but the new HD ultrasound technology provides a more realistic experience.
HD live ultrasound allows you to share a real-time video of the baby with your family and friends. In case you’re wondering whether private ultrasound facilities offer different types of ultrasounds, the answer is: Yes.
Most private ultrasound facilities offer 3D/4D/HD ultrasound experiences.
2. Are Ultrasounds Safe For Your Little One?
Given that ultrasound uses sound waves that create an image of your little one in the womb, the process exposes the baby to the energy found in the form of heat. Sometimes (and under specific circumstances), this heat can cause birth defects.
Because of this, when performing ultrasounds, it is advisable to use an amount of power that is as low as possible and necessary.
Also, limiting the amount of time that is needed to obtain ultrasound images will prevent the baby from being overly exposed to this energy.
This principle is known as ALARA meaning “as low as reasonably achievable.”
ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) endorsed the following statement from the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine:
“Although there are no confirmed biological effects on patients caused by exposures from present diagnostic ultrasound instruments, the possibility exists that such biological effects may be identified in the future. Thus ultrasound should be used in a prudent manner to provide medical benefit to the patient.”
There are two reasons why parents would want to get an ultrasound.
Some parents feel overly anxious about their little one (this is known as ‘scanxiety’), while others just want to check their baby without any medical reason or purpose.
If you’re getting an ultrasound scan for the purpose of managing the pregnancy by trained health care professionals, there’s nothing you should worry about.
3. Qualifications Of The Ultrasound Provider
If you’re interested in getting a 3-D or 4-D keepsake ultrasound scan (and not for the purpose of managing the pregnancy – medical scan), know that the provider of such ultrasounds will be primarily focused on creating a great photo or video for you.
They will not assess your baby’s development and health.
Unlike certified ultrasound facilities, sonographers at private ultrasound centers may not have the same experience and training.
If they notice some abnormalities or something similar, they may not feel comfortable sharing it with you or explaining the situation (or, as untrained professionals, they may not even notice it in the first place).
If something like that happens to you, then you need to visit your doctor and get another ultrasound scan, but this time the medical one.
Keep in mind that keepsake ultrasounds (known as commercial ultrasounds) can be falsely reassuring.
If the ultrasound provider is not a trained health care professional, they will not be able to tell you if something’s not right with the baby’s development.
Also, some parents tend to come to conclusions of their own, thinking that a nice photo of the baby’s appearance means a healthy baby.
I’m not trying to be a party pooper, but the only way to make sure that your baby is healthy is by getting a medical ultrasound.
Some unregistered private ultrasound centers don’t offer that. It is important that you always seek an OB/GYN that is a certified and registered diagnostic medical sonographer.
Most private ultrasound providers do acknowledge on their site that they don’t perform medical ultrasounds.
They also require expectant mothers to have a diagnostic ultrasound and documentation of their prenatal care.
The number one concern when it comes to safety when getting an ultrasound at a private ultrasound clinic is that the sonographer will not remember (or won’t care enough) to lower the power settings on the ultrasound machine or monitor for how long the baby is being exposed to this energy.
It’s important that the ultrasound equipment comes from the manufacturer who is responsible and knowledgeable about its proper usage so that they can pass this knowledge on to ultrasound providers.
Of course, the equipment needs to be properly inspected and serviced regularly for maximum safety.
Needless to say that some ultrasound providers don’t bother meeting those standards but rather opt to set up the ultrasound machine on their own without proper guidance or knowledge.
Not to mention improper isolation of the equipment that may lead to electric shocks.
There are plenty of ultrasound packages, weekday specials, and other offers by the private ultrasound providers promising to give you a sneak peek into the magical world of your baby.
But, sometimes this sneak peek can literally break the bank (especially if done several times).
You should never skip a medical ultrasound provided by your doctor just because you’ve already got a non-medical (keepsake) ultrasound and now you’re convinced that your baby is perfectly healthy.
Don’t fall for this commercial trap, but rather make an investment in organic diapers or other things that will be necessary to you once your baby comes into the world.
As always, the choice is yours! (But, make sure that you don’t put your baby at risk due to an inadequate or multiple ultrasound scanning).
6. Your Expectations
Remember all those ultrasound images you’ve seen in different magazines? Or those magnificent ultrasound photos of your friends that you’re secretly jealous of?
Well, there are some valid reasons for those perfect images.
First of all, for an ultrasound image to look perfect (according to your standards of perfect), the baby needs to be surrounded by plenty of fluids and be in a good position.
To get a great ultrasound image, you may be required to do it multiple times, but keep in mind that this will increase the amount of energy to which your little one is exposed.
However, multiple images are still not a guarantee that you will be one hundred percent delighted with the photos and that they will be exactly what you expected and imagined.
We all know that we rarely get exactly what we desire, right? Right.
You’ve probably seen some scary ultrasound photos yourself and instantly got worried that something was wrong with the child in the photo because it looks weird.
Well, some 3-D images do look creepy but you shouldn’t immediately think that your baby is sick or something similar.
Here’s the secret to getting perfect ultrasound images:
Get a keepsake ultrasound between 24 and 28 weeks. The reason why you should do so is that at that period your baby won’t look so bony, but will be nicely filled out.
Also, there will be the right amount of fluid around your little one which will help make the photo look just perfect.
Perhaps the best bet would be to ask your doctor if they can do a 3-D or 4-D ultrasound after they’ve done a 2-D ultrasound.
They may be willing to do so, of course, assuming they have enough time and the required technology at their disposal.
Digital video or images of an ultrasound session provide a bonding experience for both parents and the baby.
Listening to your baby’s heartbeat for the first time is one of the most beautiful things in the world. Sharing videos and images of your unborn baby with your family and friends is also fulfilling.
But, still, you should avoid inadequate and multiple scanning. Expectant mothers should avoid elective ultrasounds (non-medical scans) and limit them to medical purposes.
Ultrasound scans should be performed by certified and trained health care professionals.
If you decide to get a private ultrasound scan, make sure that the ultrasound imaging facility has certified radiologists and sonographers in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Whatever you decide, good luck and I wish you happy parenting!
• American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine. (2005, September 12). “Beyond Tom Cruise – The Bigger Ultrasound Picture”.
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