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The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on UK parent experiences of pregnancy ultrasound scans and parent-fetal bonding: A mixed methods analysis

Skelton, E. ORCID: 0000-0003-0132-7948, Smith, A., Harrison, G. ORCID: 0000-0003-2795-8190 , Rutherford, M., Ayers, S. ORCID: 0000-0002-6153-2460 & Malamateniou, C. ORCID: 0000-0002-2352-8575 (2023). The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on UK parent experiences of pregnancy ultrasound scans and parent-fetal bonding: A mixed methods analysis. PLoS ONE, 18(6), article number e0286578. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0286578


INTRODUCTION: Companionship in antenatal care is important for facilitating positive parental experiences. During the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions on partner attendance at fetal ultrasound scans were introduced nationally to minimise transmission of the virus. This study aimed to explore the effect of these restrictions on maternal and paternal experiences of pregnancy scans and evaluate their potential effect on parent-fetal bonding.

METHODS: A UK-wide, anonymous cross-sectional survey was completed by new and expectant parents (n = 714) who had, or were awaiting a pregnancy scan during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CORE-10 and an adapted version of the Prenatal Attachment Inventory were used to evaluate psychological distress and prenatal bonding. Additional survey questions captured parental experiences of scans. Separate statistical and thematic analyses of the data were undertaken. A joint display matrix was used to facilitate integration of quantitative and qualitative claims to generate a comprehensive interpretation of study findings.

FINDINGS: When fathers did not attend the scan, feelings of excitement and satisfaction were significantly reduced (p<0.001) and feelings of anxiety increased (p<0.001) in both parents. Mothers were concerned about receiving unexpected news alone and fathers felt excluded from the scan. Mean paternal bonding (38.22, SD 10.73) was significantly lower compared to mothers (47.01, SD 7.67) although no difference was demonstrated between those who had attended the scan and those who had not. CORE-10 scores suggested low-to-mild levels of psychological distress, although the mean difference between mothers and fathers was not significant. Key themes described both parents' sense of loss for their desired pregnancy scan experience and reflected on sonographers' central role in providing parent-centred care during scans.

CONCLUSION: Restrictions on partner attendance at scans during the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative effect on parental experiences of antenatal imaging. Provision of parent-centred care, which is inclusive of partners, is essential for improved parental experiences.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2023 Skelton et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Publisher Keywords: Male; Female; Pregnancy; Humans; Prenatal Care; Cross-Sectional Studies; Pandemics; COVID-19; Parents; Mothers; United Kingdom
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
R Medicine > RG Gynecology and obstetrics
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Midwifery & Radiography
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