What is a 3D Ultrasound?

By (embryologist) and (fertility counselor).
Last Update: 07/16/2014

The three-dimensional ultrasound (3D), was introduced in Gynecology at late-80s early-90s, turning the field of image diagnose upside down, as it showed a never seendefinition.

Provided below is an index with the 5 points we are going to expand on in this article.


3D ultrasound is based on the fundamentals of ultrasounds, but adding fetal volume measurements to the mix, unlike the 2D ultrasound.

It shows a 3D static image of the foetus and its structures, with a brighter and more defined coloration and configuration than the conventional black and white display. The third plane added is the coronal plane in abdominal ultrasounds and the transverse plane in vaginal ultrasounds.

3D ultrasounds are performed supplementary to traditional ultrasounds.

Nowadays, there are high-tech equipment that trace and "take a photo" of the baby in question of minutes. The obtained image is then saved in the computer.

With this ultrasound we can discriminate, even in the early phases of gestation (12-13 weeks), all the features the face of the foetus: nose, mouth, ears. Others, such as the cranium, brain and most importantly, the heart can also be identified. Some malformations and abnormalities that may go unnoticed in 2D can be detected in 3D.

How is it performed?

3D ultrasound has three stages. One of the key aspects when obtaining a good 3D image is to have high-quality 2D image. The three phases are performed instantly, it just takes 3-4 seconds to take the image.

  • First, a fetal volume analysis is performed, collecting data of fetal size and position.
  • The second phase consists of a multiaxial analysis of the information previously collected.
  • In the third phase the 3d image is assembled as of the exploration of the three planes.


Since the image is sharper and provides more information, it is possible to make early and accurate detections of fetal malformations.
Exploration time is considerably reduced. Given that the fetal images can be recorded, the gynecologist is able to analyze the scanning thoroughly and ask other colleagues and experts.

Thanks to the definition of the image, detection of skin defects like leporin lip of or cleft lips can be made.

This method also provides a measurement of fetal volume, and also gives information about the volume of the unborn's organs. That eases the detection of developmental anomalies.

Aside being diagnose-friendly, the 3D ultrasound can be a pedagogical tool for the parents. They are explained the development of the baby using the sharpest images.

The parents can also keep a CD with the recorded images.


A good 3D image can only be obtained if there is good 2D image. According to Dr. Marie-Thérése Verdy, gynecologist-obstetrician, the ultrasounds sent by the 3D sounding line are thicker than 2D's, so she does not recommend using it as routine ultrasound.

It might take a while to obtain a good image. This is due to the complexity of the technique, only trained personnel is able to perform a proper one.

Lastly, other potential disadvantage of the 3D ultrasound is the price, as it is more expensive than regular ultrasounds.

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 Neus Ferrando Gilabert
Neus Ferrando Gilabert
B.Sc., M.Sc.
Bachelor's Degree in Biology from the University of Valencia (UV). Postgraduate Course in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the Miguel Hernández University of Elche (UMH). Experience managing Embryology and Andrology Labs at Centro Médico Manzanera (Logroño, Spain). More information about Neus Ferrando Gilabert
Adapted into english by:
 Sandra Fernández
Sandra Fernández
B.A., M.A.
Fertility Counselor
Bachelor of Arts in Translation and Interpreting (English, Spanish, Catalan, German) from the University of Valencia (UV) and Heriot-Watt University, Riccarton Campus (Edinburgh, UK). Postgraduate Course in Legal Translation from the University of Valencia. Specialist in Medical Translation, with several years of experience in the field of Assisted Reproduction. More information about Sandra Fernández

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