New 3D/4D Ultrasound Provides Detailed Images of Fetuses


It’s become an icon of expectant parents in the modern age: A fuzzy black and white image of a cherished fetus with indistinct features proudly displayed on the refrigerator door. But thanks to new three-dimensional ultrasound technology, ‘baby’s first photo’ is coming into clearer focus, resembling an actual photograph of a fetus with realistic features. And as an added bonus, a ‘four-dimensional’ capability of the new technology allows expectant parents and clinicians to actually watch the fetus’ movements in real time.

Women’s Care is the only obstetrics and gynecology practice in the area to offer expectant parents an astonishingly detailed preview of their child with the new 3D/4D ultrasound.

The new version works in the same way as conventional ultrasound, but computer software allows it to create a three-dimensional view of the fetus and to show its natural movements in the uterus.

According to Women’s Care physician Heather York, MD, the 3D/4D ultrasound is useful for medical and diagnostic purposes. She says that the more distinct images make it easier to detect potential problems, such as cleft lip, spina bifida, and problems with the fetus’ brain, spine and heart. “For instance, with spina bifida, a 3D image of the back shows skin surfaces, rather than just the bony structure, which is what the 2D images showed,” Dr. York explains. “So now we can see exactly where and how large the defect is, and can provide parents a more clear expectation.”

Dr. York adds that the new technology also has important applications for gynecological patients. “We can now see a third dimension in the uterus and ovaries that we never saw before with ultrasound, providing more information about abnormalities and the location of certain pathologies.” For instance, she says, it’s now possible to see endometrial polyps with more certainty, and to get a precise location of fibroids in the endometrium, or lining of the uterus.

For expectant parents, though, all the conveniences and advantages pale in comparison to the incomparable joy of having a realistic sneak peek at their baby.

According to Brandy Sundberg, a diagnostic medical sonographer at Women’s Care, the 3D/4D ultrasound offers many advantages. “It provides parents a realistic look at their baby, and allows them to bond. First-time parents are often apprehensive, and this lets them see clearly what their baby looks like and helps reassure them.”

Jennifer, a Eugene obstetrics nurse, is seven months pregnant with her second son. During her first pregnancy three years ago, she had the conventional ultrasound. With this pregnancy, she’s had the 3D/4D variety. “The difference is amazing,” Jennifer says. “We have a clear picture of our second baby, and because his features are so distinct, we already think he looks like our first.” She says the difference between the old and new versions of ultrasound is like the difference between a child’s stick-figure drawing and a Rembrandt painting. And, as an obstetrics nurse, Jennifer says patients get much more excited about their 3D/4D ultrasounds than with the old ones. She adds that, as with the traditional ultrasounds, expectant parents can request that the baby’s gender be kept a surprise.