Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Skinny On: 3d/4d Ultrasounds

Every time I’m at my Ob/Gyn for my monthly appointment, I pass the time by trying to figure out how far along different women are and flipping through the latest prego magazines.  Aside from lots of ads for things I never knew I needed, I always see ads for 3d/4d ultrasounds; these ads are often accompanied by vivid 3d pictures of chunky babies in utero. 

When I was pregnant with Sophie, I never considered having an elective 3d/4d ultrasound.  The idea was too foreign to me and I had four regular ultrasounds, (I moved mid-pregnancy so I had two in PA and two in VA) so I saw no need.  Honestly, I thought of it as an unnecessary expense.  But now I was curious and wanted to know more about elective ultrasounds. Why do people choose to have them done? How much do they cost? Who performs them? What is 4d? Are they safe? etc, etc. 

After looking into more than a half dozen 3d/4d ultrasound groups in the area, I decided to contact Bella Baby 4d (, a 3d/4d ultrasound group located in the Fair Oaks hospital complex that shares space with Fairfax Ob/Gyn Associates.  Bella Baby 4d is run by Jeanne Sottile, a registered sonagrapher with nine years experience overall, and two years with the new 4d equipment.  Jeanne was not only kind enough to answer my questions about 3d/4d ultrasounds, but she also invited me in to have one done.

I have to say, I was a bit nervous about the whole thing.  I’d kind of gotten used to the 2d scan.  I mean yeah, you can’t make out a whole lot on it, but it’s always been enough.   The 3d pictures I’d seen sort of weirded me out.   I didn’t know if I wanted to see THAT much.   

I’m 21 weeks along and have had two regular (doctor ordered) 2d ultrasounds. The most recent was to take measurements, check out the main organs, and attempt to determine gender.  The first two tests checked out fine.  The fun part however, failed miserably, as my little one was hunkered in a little ball, face down, knees tightly closed.  Arrrgh, we couldn’t see a damn thing.  (Sophie did the same thing during her 20 week ultrasound -- I hope my kids always remain this modest!)  So in addition to being nervous about all I would see, I was also going to definitively find out my babies gender during this visit.

I should probably clarify what the difference is between 3d and 4d ultrasounds. In 3d ultrasounds, the sound waves are sent at different angles, instead of straight down (like a 2d). The returning echoes are processed and provide a three dimensional image of fetus's surface or internal organs.  3d ultrasounds allow you to see width, height and depth of images (like a 3d movie but without movement).  The 4d component is basically 3d plus live action movement.  I should also mention that while many hospitals have 3d/4d ultrasound equipment, many do not use it on every pregnant woman.  Although they are safe, many only use it in high risk situations in order to see with more clarity.  

 The 3d/4d ultrasounds I’m discussing in this post are the kind done outside of your doctor’s care and are considered “elective” ultrasounds.  To be clear: these are not diagnostic ultrasounds.  They are sort of more like…vanity ultrasounds…baby-in-utero glamour shots, if you will.

Jeanne sees an average of 45-50 couples per month at her Bella Baby 4d location in Fairfax.  (A good number of her clients are military and come in before dad is deployed or during leave.)  There are basically three reasons why women/couples come in to have a 3d/4d ultrasound done: gender determination, deeper connection with baby, and to have dad see what mom is experiencing/feeling.

While it is possible to determine gender after week 16, the best time to get a 3d/4d ultrasound done is between weeks 27 and 30, since that is when you’ll be able to see the whole face in its chubby baby glory.  Often people will come in for 2 sessions; an early session between weeks 16 and 26 to determine gender and then a later session between weeks 27 and 31 to get the best in utero pics of the baby.  According to Jeanne, after 31 weeks it is very difficult to see or get pictures of the baby’s face or body parts because the baby is so large at this point and there is so little space left in the uterus for the baby to move.  If you are 34+ weeks, she will most likely turn you away since by this point, it’s impossible to get a good picture.  Be leery of any place that will take your money and scan you 34 weeks +!

You must prove that you are under the care of an Ob/gyn and have had a regular 2d diagnostic ultrasound before you can make an appointment at Bella Baby 4d.  Also, if you are a high risk pregnancy (high blood pressure, gestational diabetes, etc) you must disclose that to your sonagrapher because it may impact the results of your scan.  For example, women with gestational diabetes tend to have very large babies and it may be harder to get a good view of the baby.  Finally, if your baby has a known abnormality and you’re considering a 3d/4d ultrasound, only do it if you are sure it isn’t going to upset you.

My Experience

As I mentioned before, I was a little nervous about having the ultrasound done, but it turned out to a pleasant and surprisingly emotional experience.  I typically get my ultrasounds done at the perinatal center at INOVA Alexandria hospital. The room is cold and sterile.  The ultrasound room at Fairfax Ob/Gyn Associates (where Bella Baby is located) in comparison was very warm and welcoming.  Purple walls, low lighting and soothing music make it feel almost spa like.  A large flat screen tv sits on the wall across from the bed so you don’t have to crane your neck to see what’s going on.  The relaxing atmosphere definitely puts you in the right mood to see and connect with your baby. 

When Jeanne started my scan I was just frozen.  It was crazy to see my baby so close up and so clearly.  Since I am only 21 weeks along, the baby’s features were not like the chubby pics you see in the magazine advertisements.  I mean I could make out the face and features and appendages, but the baby is still very small and developing and still looks a little alien like.  But it was beautiful.  When Jeanne turned on the 4d it got really wild.  I could actually see what I was feeling.  I could see the baby rolling back and forth and kicking.  I understand why women want to have these done, it really helps you visualize your child.  It’s a beautiful and personal experience that definitely brings you closer to your child. I have been so busy with Sophie that I haven’t really given much time or thought to baby #2.  I can honestly say that I feel more connected now.  And for those of you wondering, I can’t wait to meet…her.  
If you are interested in having a 3d/4d ultrasound, I would definitely recommend Baby Bella 4d.  There are several packages ranging from $75 to $169, and almost all of these include cd with pics and a dvd of the session.  There is also a military discount.  Jeanne’s prices are very competitive.  I actually think they are the lowest in the area (at least compared to the other local groups I researched listed below).  Regardless of where you choose to go, make sure your scan is being done by a registered sonagrapher. 

So here’s our first EITB Giveaway and Preggiepon:

1- Fan Expecting Inside the Beltway’s Facebook page or become a follower of the blog and be entered to win a free 15 min 3d/4d ultrasound package from Bella Baby 4d complete with a photo CD with 12-20 3d pictures and a 4d DVD of the whole session!  (a $119 value)  (If you follow the blog and fan the page you get 2 chances!)   Drawing will be held on Wednesday April 28 (and only pregnant fans get put into the raffle)th!

2- Mention “Expecting Inside the Beltway” when you schedule your appointment and get a free upgrade from a 20 min to 30 min package (a $30 discount)

Thanks again to Bella Baby 4d for taking the time to meet with me and for offering these great deals to EITB fans/followers!

Bella Baby 4d
3650 Joseph Siewick Dr
Suite 203
Fairfax, VA 22033
703 334-1730

Other 3d/4d Ultrasound Businesses in the Metro DC area:


Motherhood Sonograms (Falls Church)  $

Infant See 4d (Fairfax, Lorton) $$

Apricot Tree (Woodbridge)  $$$


That’s My Baby (Bowie) $

Baby To Be Images(Annapolis) $

Stork Vision (Gaithersburg) $$

Lil Bo Peep (Owings Mills) $$

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