(NewsUSA) – For many moms-to-be, a first ultrasound is a life changing experience — it can also be a life saving moment for the child they’re carrying.

While ultrasounds have been used in prenatal care for many years, new technology is changing the face of obstetrical care. Today, doctors can use 3D and 4D imaging capabilities along with “conventional” 2D ultrasound, allowing them to examine everything from a baby’s developing brain to its arms and legs. They can even see a fetal heart the size of a dime.

These new capabilities can help doctors detect problems that could put babies at risk.

“Thanks to early detection through prenatal care, medicine can often save at-risk babies who would have been lost a generation ago,” said Dr. Jacques Abramowicz, Frances T. and Lester B. Knight professor, director of Ob/Gyn Ultrasound and Co-Director of the Rush Fetal and Neonatal Medicine Center in Chicago. “But we can only make a difference if moms take the initiative to see their doctors and see them early in their pregnancy.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 4 million American women will give birth this year, and nearly one-third will experience some kind of complication. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration says babies born to mothers who receive no prenatal care are five times more likely to die and three times more likely to be born at low birth weight than those whose mothers receive prenatal care.

Prenatal care provides a wide range of support, including medical care, education and counseling. Ultrasound is often a critical part of that all-important care.

By providing pregnant women “with important information and sometimes an early warning if there could be a bump in the road ahead, ultrasound aids physicians in making better diagnoses, which helps moms make better choices for their babies and themselves,” said Janice Blackwell, vice president, Ultrasound Global Marketing, for Philips Healthcare.