THE first time Mr Walter Wong and his wife Doreen Tay, both 32, laid eyes on their baby, she was yawning - in her mother's womb.
They saw her face and movements in real time in May - when Ms Tay was 71/2 months pregnant - courtesy of an ultrasound scan which yielded three-dimensional images like a live video feed.
For an hour, they watched entranced as tiny Yee Suen stuck her tongue out, shielded her face with a hand and reached to touch her toe. Mr Wong, a sales manager, said: 'We always wondered what she was doing inside when she moved or kicked. These are things you would never get to see without this scan.'
|With the 3-D ultrasound scan, expectant parents can see the unborn baby clearly, as in this photo showing tiny Yee Suen's face.
Parents-to-be who have had parts of their unborn children pointed out to them by their doctor using older scan technology would understand his excitement. 'With the usual scan, when the doctor is showing you and saying, 'This is the face, those are the eyes'...you can't really see,' he said.
More parents-to-be are now asking for these lifelike photos and video clips, even though it can cost twice as much.
Thomson Medical Centre, where Ms Tay was scanned, has seen requests for the three- or four-dimensional ultrasound scans double in the last two years.
The National University Hospital (NUH) did about 200 requested scans between April last year and March this year, 10 per cent more than the corresponding period the year before; Raffles Hospital has three to four patients asking for them every month, up from one a month two years ago. KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and Mount Elizabeth Hospital have also noted the growing trend.
The technology has been here since 2000, but the newer scan became widely available two years ago. Unlike the conventional scan whose images require a trained eye to interpret, images from the newer scan are recognisable by laymen.
Doctors said they still spot most abnormalities using the usual scan, but the newer one enables them to confirm some heart and brain abnormalities and physical deformities like cleft lips.
Since the newer machines can also perform the usual scan, doctors generally do the usual one first, switching to the newer mode when they spot irregularities.
All hospitals, with the exception of SGH, charge more for the newer scan - $110 to $320, against $60 to $120 for the usual one. At KKH and NUH, the fees are the same if the newer scan is medically required. But if the parents-to-be ask for it, they pay $110 to $250, instead of $70 to $120.
Associate Professor George Yeo, chief of KKH's department of obstetrics, said: 'It's like going to a photo studio to take a photo - nothing wrong with that, but you have to pay for what you want.'
An expectant mum required to take the new scan because her baby has an abnormality is not charged extra, he said.
But even when not medically necessary, the new scan can be useful for parent-child bonding, obstetricians agree.
Associate Professor Arjit Biswas of NUH said: ''Feeling good' cannot always be measured objectively. If the parents can afford the scan, they should take the chance to see lifelike images of their unborn child. The feeling is gratifying.'
The Wongs paid $250 for the scan, a photograph and a CD with more than 20 still images and six short video clips.
Seeing Yee Suen allayed their anxiety.
Ms Tay said: 'The first thing we did was count her fingers and toes. The scan gave us assurance that she was normal.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Sep 27, 2008.