The Impact of Fetus Visualization on Parents' Psychological Reactions

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The intention of this study was to examine the short-term psychological effects on parents, if any, of ultrasound scanning-that is, of fetal visualization. The starting hypothesis was that after visualizing the fetus, parents experience a lower level of stress and anxiety. To test that hypothesis, a quasiexperimental/control type of study was conducted. The subjects, all parents (N = 296), were divided into two groups: an experimental high-feedback group that watched the ultrasound screen, and a low-feedback control group that could not see a screen. Each group had two subgroups-risk pregnancy and no-risk pregnancy. To test the level of anxiety and stress, a number of scales were administered. The results confirm the positive effect of screening. Stress and anxiety levels were reduced. Statistically significant differences between the groups are found. Additional analysis in this area should be pursued.

INTRODUCTION

Ultrasound diagnostics is used widely in prenatal medicine. However, many questions are still raised about the benefits and/or harm that could be caused by the ultrasound technique. In addition, there is very little known about any psychological impact that ultrasounds have on mothers, fathers, and the fetus.

Ultrasounds indeed do remarkable work. They can detect fetal abnormalities and malformations. They enable us to learn more about fetal senses and behavior. We know that the fetus breathes, experiences pain, tastes, hears, sees, and cries. We can even do surgery on a fetus. The fetus has become a patient.

We do have some answers about fetus behavior during and after ultrasound examination. We know quite a bit, though not enough, about the relationship between the emotions and behavior of the mother and the fetus (see, for example, Van den Bergh 1990, or Rossi et al. 1989). Van den Bergh showed in her work that fetal behavior is influenced by maternal chronic anxiety during pregnancy. She also found that there is a certain degree of correlation between fetal and neonatal movement patterns. Rossi and his colleagues gathered similar results. They found that fetuses have a significantly higher motor activity in mothers with a high level of anxiety. However, there are not many systematic answers on parents' reactions to the use of ultrasound diagnostics in pregnancy. Does ultrasound have a positive impact on mothers and fathers, in any kind of pregnancy (risky or normal), regardless of the doctor's findings? If the answer is "yes", should it be applied as a routine diagnostic procedure or not? In which cases is it more appropriate to use and in which cases is it not?

Recent literature concerned with the problem of the psychological effects of the interaction of ultrasound as a procedure and parents as patients is diverse and fragmented. Studies have mostly focused on mothers' reactions and changes in their attitudes towards the pregnancy after ultrasound technique is implemented and towards the technique itself (see, for example, Endres, 1987; Campbell et al., 1982; Milne and Rich, 1984; Marteau et al., 1989; Fletcher and Evans, 1983). For example, Campbell and his colleagues (1982) sought to find out more about the short-term psychological effects of early ultrasound scans. Their results confirm the acceptability of scanning, and the powerful effect of ultrasound on maternal attitudes towards the pregnancy. They found a higher level of maternal attachment to the fetus after the exposure to the ultrasound monitor. Milne and Rich (1984) evaluated a group of women exposed to the sonography. They tried to determine if women are able to "feel" what they see on a monitor, and how that feeling influences them. The authors concluded that the ultrasound visualization has a positive impact on mothers. Brown (1988) studied the short-term impact of fetal imaging on paternal stress and anxiety. He examined some of the emotional responses of expectant fathers when viewing their unborn child. …