A systematic review of twenty-three studies suggests that, during pregnancy, expectant parents' feelings towards their unborn baby (fetus) can be positively enhanced by sonographers (specialist healthcare professionals who are trained to perform pregnancy ultrasound scans) making imaging examinations a truly parent-centred experience.
Such an experience can allay feelings of anxiety and stress in the parents, helping them to feel more informed about the health and well-being of their unborn baby, and reassured of their emotional investment in the on-going pregnancy.
Conducted by the Centre for Maternal and Child Health Research at City, University of London, the review provides a holistic interpretation of the current evidence on the effect of antenatal (before birth) imaging on expectant parents' feelings towards their unborn baby.
To-date, whilst the provision of ultrasound scans during pregnancy has been generally regarded as a positive experience for parents, and may predict the quality of the parent-child relationship after birth, there is evidence to suggest that that the experience may also lead to increased anxiety and stress in parents, particularly those who are unable to interpret the scan images.
Seventeen of the studies analysed in the review related to the mother's experience only, five included both parents and one study recruited fathers only. Six central themes were developed from analysis of the included studies:
The review also identified a lack of published research studies exploring the impact of fetal MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) on expectant parents' emotional connection to their unborn baby. Fetal MRI is becoming more commonly used to complement ultrasound imaging when a fetal anomaly is suspected. Hence, the authors stress that more research needs to be undertaken in this area to help understand the acceptability of this type of scan to parents and its potential effect on their feelings towards their unborn child.
Lead author, Emily Skelton, is a sonographer, lecturer and College of Radiographers Doctoral Fellow within the Department of Radiography and Midwifery at City, University of London. She said:
"We know how important scans during pregnancy are to provide clinical information about fetal growth and development, but there are additional benefits for expectant parents, who, in their transition to parenthood, may feel closer to their unborn babies after "seeing" them on scan. This review highlights the integral role of the sonographer in facilitating the developing connection between expectant parents and their unborn babies, through an informative, supportive and inclusive parent-centred approach to care that parents feel actively involved in."
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