Nurture Article | The Portland Hospital Parenting Magazine
Winter Issue 2011 | Sophie Goodchild
Seeing your baby smile for the first time is a milestone for any parent. Now, with the help of modern scanning technology, it is possible to watch an infant’s facial expressions before it is even born.
For a few hundred pounds, clinics can carry out 3D ante-natal scans during pregnancy, or even 4D – which is simply 3D in motion.
Some even put the images to music so you can download them on your iPod. But are they worth the money and can they tell you anything more than routine 2D scans?
Conventional ultrasound captures the width and height of a foetus and this determines a mother’s due date as well as some chromosomal disorders.
Three or four dimensional ultrasound takes 2D scans and converts them into a ‘life-like’ image of the unborn child, showing its surface volume.
The benefit of 3D for doctors is that they can get a better understanding of defects in the heart, face or limbs of a developing foetus.
It can also be useful for preparing parents-to-be mentally for the reality of an infant with cleft palate or harelip, for example.
Professor Eric Jauniaux, fetal medicine director at the Portland Hospital, says: “Parents will go on the Internet and find the most extreme pictures. With this (3D) you can reassure them that it’s only a small defect which can be operated on after birth.
“It also helps fathers bond. They say ‘the baby looks like me.’’
If your baby is healthy and you just want a sneak preview of junior, then the best 3D ultrasound images are obtained between 22 and 28 weeks of pregnancy, according to Darryl Maxwell, a consultant at the London Ultrasound Clinic and senior clinician at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS trust in London.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and you need co-operation from the baby,” he explains.
“If your only criteria is to have the scan and see the baby, then most people can do that as long as they have
an appropriate machine.
“But it (3D imaging) won’t give you an instantly beautiful picture. If they (the baby) push their nose up against the uterus then that doesn’t look good. It’s certainly not a gimmick but you have to acquire the pictures in the first place.”
Dean Meredith, Ultrasonagrapher Manager at the Portland, has been taking scans for 20 years and agrees there is no guarantee that your developing baby will do a ‘thumbs up’ just because you want him (or her) to.
“Larger babies can restrict the view and you’re never going to get a good picture if the baby is in the wrong position,” he says.
“I’ve got pictures where babies have yawned, smiled or even put two fingers up. But that doesn’t always happen – you should focus on the experience, not just the picture.
“Some people think the pictures are great, yet we get others who actually find them quite scary – they’re not
to everyone’s taste.”
How does ultrasound work?
A woman usually receives an ultrasound when she first attends the antenatal clinic, then again at between 18 to 22 weeks of pregnancy. This is to check the baby’s growth and key organs in the body such as the heart and kidneys.
Ultrasound pictures are formed using sound waves with a frequency above the audible range of human hearing. A machine sends these waves through the body and they are then reflected back and converted into an image that is visible on a screen.