4D scan: what it is, how it works and cost

All you need to know about 4d scans

by Emily Gilbert |
Updated on

A 4D scan is a popular method which gives parents a 3D moving image of their baby (after all, who wouldn’t want to see their baby in high-definition before they’re born?). It’s slightly different from your conventional 2D black and white 12-week scan and 20-week scan and while they aren’t essential to get during your pregnancy, they can make a lovely keepsake to go inside your baby book.

If you’re keen to know how much a 4D scan costs, the pros and cons, and, most importantly, what one looks like then look no further. We spoke to Rachel Fitz-Desorgher, a midwife with 30 years of experience, to answer everything you need to know about 4D scans.

What is a 4D scan and how is it different from a normal scan?

2D scan, 3D scan and 4D scan
Different ultrasound scans

"Ultrasound scans, whether 2D, 3D or 4D, all work in the same way," says Rachel. "Quite simply, the scanning probe sends out high-frequency sound waves which are aimed at the baby. These sound waves bang into the baby and then bounce back again like an echo and are collected and turned into an image of the baby by a computer."

A 2D scan (the one used most commonly in hospitals) sends the sound waves straight onto the baby from one angle and the echo can be built into a still two-dimensional image.

The 3D baby scans send waves from lots of different angles to give a still three-dimensional image and the 4D scan is like a 3D scan but gives you a real-time three-dimensional moving image.

When is best to have a 4D scan?

According to Rachel, there’s no time you should or shouldn’t have a 4D scan, as they are not considered medically necessary, but are rather classed as "recreational", "reassurance" or "keepsake" scans.

"It’s your choice whether or not to have one and so you can book whenever you like," she says. “However, to get the most out of a 4D scan, aim to be seen between 26 weeks and 30 weeks pregnant.

"At this stage, there should be enough fat on your baby that his or her face won’t look too bony and he or she won’t yet have started going down into the pelvis and disappearing from view."

What will I be able to see at a 4D scan?

pregnant woman and husband having 4d baby scan

When you book your 4D scan, you’ll understandably be keen to see your baby’s face - but how much you will see will depend on which way your baby is facing.

"If your baby is facing out towards your belly button, you will see more than if he or she is facing towards your back," says Rachel. "Likewise if his or her head has already moved down into your pelvis, you might not see the face at all. Sometimes the baby is pressed up against the placenta and can look pretty odd or you might not get a full look."

There are also other factors that can make it tricky to get a good view of your baby. Firstly, if you’re plump around your tummy, and secondly, if there isn’t much amniotic fluid around the baby.

However, even if you don’t get a great view, Rachel says you’ll still be able to see parts of your baby. "Even if your baby is shy about showing their face, you will still be able to see fingers and toes wiggling and the arms and legs waving and kicking," she says. "Unless your baby has their legs firmly crossed, you should be able to see the genitals."

Plus, if you weren’t able to get a good view of your baby, you might be eligible for a second scan. "Some companies offer you a free second scan if the first one is not very good, and some do not, so check before you book," she adds.

The pros and cons

Rachel says that while there are benefits to getting a 4D scan, there are also some downsides too, so it's important to do your research before getting one.

Benefits of a 4D scan

Some couples find the experience more relaxing than the routine scans which are done for medical purposes

Some people say that seeing their baby so clearly helps them to bond before birth

Is an opportunity for the wider family to see/bond with the baby as many clinics allow family members to go along for the scan

You'll usually be offered a DVD or digital download of your 4D scan to keep

Downfalls of a 4D scan

The scan can take much longer, sometimes up to 45 minutes, exposing your baby to very intense sound waves for longer and more of the body surface is hit by the waves.

• Ultrasound waves cause vibrations and slight heating in the body tissues which, when such an intense scan goes on for longer than is medically advised, might cause some harm. For this reason, the NHS has not approved the use of 4D scans or offered them for medical use.

Sometimes can cause the parents to worry, depending on the baby's position.

The scan may highlight something that could unnecessarily concern parents. "Although 4D scans are done for pleasure rather than medical reasons, sonographers do sometimes see things such as lumps or cysts," says Rachel. "Although these are often harmless and may even disappear in time, parents become worried and then, when they discover that their NHS hospital is not willing to do a reassurance scan because of a worry caused by a 4D scan, they can spend the rest of the pregnancy fretting. Do think very hard before spending your money on a 4D scan."

Can I get a 4D scan done on the NHS?

While you’ll be offered ultrasound scans during your pregnancy on the NHS, these are not 4D.

 “There are NHS hospitals that now offer 4D scans as ‘recreational scans’ but these are not free," says Rachel. "The medical scans you will be offered during your pregnancy are not 4D.”

How much is a 4D scan?

If you’re adamant you want a 4D scan, make sure you do your research in advance to be sure of what your package includes.

"As with everything, cost varies from package to package, clinic to clinic and from town to city so do shop around," Rachel advises. "Remember to ask if the price includes a DVD or download and whether or not you will be offered a free second scan if baby is shy the first time. Expect to pay between £50 for a quick peek with no frills, to almost £300 for a top-notch package with lots of photos, a DVD and other gifts."

What does a 4D scan look like?

Have a watch of the video below to get an idea of what your 4D scan could look like...

4D scans near me

The easiest way to find where you can get a 4D scan of your baby is by doing a quick Google search. Alternatively, you can try Window to the Womb and Ultrasound Direct which both offer 4D scans nationwide.

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