The excitement of having a baby is often surpassed by the curiosity to know what your unborn baby may look like. Up until recently, there was no way of knowing for sure. Regular antenatal ultrasounds could show the outline of the baby’s facial profile, but could not give parents any idea of what the baby would look like. This was until the 4D scan came into being. Even though the images are computer generated and are not 100% accurate, it does allow parents to see their baby’s face beyond the traditional grainy black-and-white ultrasound images. Unfortunately this type of scan is not covered by your medical aid.
How does the 4D scan work?
A 4D scan is also an ultrasound scan, like the regular scans you have at your gynaecologist’s rooms. The probe emits high frequency sound waves which are not audible by the human ear. These waves can penetrate through tissue like the mother’s abdominal wall and uterus. It bounces off the structures within the uterus, namely the baby, and is then received by the machine. These sound waves are then interpreted into images, very similar to the way a submarine’s sonar works.
By compiling the returning sound waves, a 3D image of the baby can then be formed. But the 4D takes another factor into account. Time. By scanning in real time, the machine is then able to form the image that you typically see on a 4D scan. It is the computer that shades the image with the typical amber (brownish-yellow) colour. This is not a depiction of your baby’s skin colour. As amazing as this can seems, it must be remembered that rendering of the image is largely done by a computer and there is room for some inaccuracy. Nevertheless it is a useful tool and parents find the images very exciting.
Why does medical aid not pay for it?
Your medical aid will only pay for essential services that have been clinically proven to be useful in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases. A 4D scan is not considered as a diagnostic tool. A level 3 scan done by some gynaecologists and perinatalogists (maternal-foetal specialists) are by far the most accurate, clear and useful scan which is not needed for every pregnancy. But a 4D scan, despite the wow factor of the rendered images, is not as useful in identifying foetal or placental abnormalities.
Fortunately many private hospitals now offer mothers a free 4D scan if the equipment is available on-site. These scans should be done around 26 to 30 weeks. It is not mandatory for the private hospital to offer such a services. But when mothers book a bed for delivery, and when the equipment is available, private hospitals throw it in as an incentive to patients. If not, then the parents will have to pay for this scan which is anywhere between R350 to R550 cash depending on where in South Africa you are.
Remember that your medical aid is most likely not going to reimburse you for this scan. So if finances are tight and you are not getting it for free, consider whether it is truly necessary. Never rely on a 4D scan to skip a check up with your gynaecologist or go for a level 2 or level 3 scan if your gynaecologist has prescribed these scans with a radiologist. These scans are very necessary. A 4D scan is not. Always speak to your medical and enquire whether the costs of a 4D scan will be covered, especially if you are on a higher plan.