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Prenatal Testing Basics: 3-D Ultrasound Exam

When is it done?

Three-dimensional ultrasound, which creates a crystal-clear image of the fetus by using high-frequency sound waves and special imaging software, can be done at any point in a pregnancy when traditional, two-dimensional ultrasound might be used.

Who needs it, and why?

The detailed images supplied by 3-D ultrasound are most valuable when a problem with the baby is detected with two-dimensional ultrasound and the practitioner needs to pinpoint a diagnosis. This is especially valuable when dealing with abnormalities of the brain, spina bifida, or cleft lips/palates. The images can help expectant parents understand the abnormality and the options available for their child. But the technology is just starting to become more common. Even those who might benefit from 3-D ultrasound may not have access to it, mainly because there are few technicians who are highly trained to use it. Doctors stress that in almost all cases, two-dimensional ultrasound is the best way to do a screening for fetal defects, and that 3-D technology should only be used in cases that truly warrant it.

What does it involve?

As with a traditional ultrasound, a 3-D ultrasound exam is painless and non-invasive. High-frequency sound waves (which cannot be heard by humans) are reflected off of the fetus's body, creating an image, or sonogram, of the baby that can be viewed on a small screen. To conduct the exam, the doctor or technician applies some oil or gel on your exposed abdomen, then moves a transducer across it. The transducer directs sound waves toward your uterus and the fetus inside the uterus. 3-D ultrasound involves no radiation or X-rays, and is considered harmless for both mother and baby.

Where can I get a 3-D ultrasound exam in my area?

Check with local maternal-fetal specialists and hospitals with a specialty in high-risk obstetrics.

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All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.