City Research Online

"It's not just the medical aspects that are important": A qualitative exploration of first-time parents' experiences of antenatal imaging and their influence on parent-fetal bonding

Skelton, E. ORCID: 0000-0003-0132-7948, Cromb, D., Smith, A. , van Poppel, M., Morland, C., Rutherford, M., Malamateniou, C. ORCID: 0000-0002-2352-8575 & Ayers, S. (2024). "It's not just the medical aspects that are important": A qualitative exploration of first-time parents' experiences of antenatal imaging and their influence on parent-fetal bonding. Radiography, 30(1), pp. 288-295. doi: 10.1016/j.radi.2023.11.019


Antenatal imaging provides clinical information regarding fetal growth and development. The additional benefit afforded by imaging for expectant parents in developing an emotional connection (bond) to the unborn baby is also acknowledged. However, the relationship between imaging and bonding is not fully understood, particularly where there are differing parental and pregnancy circumstances, for example use of advanced imaging techniques or the prenatal diagnosis of a congenital fetal condition. This study aimed to explore the role of antenatal imaging in enhancing the developing parent-fetal bond in first-time parents.

A descriptive, qualitative methodology was used. Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with first-time expectant parents attending a London hospital for clinical ultrasound (n = 20) or research MRI (n = 8) imaging during pregnancy. The sample included parents receiving specialist antenatal care for a diagnosed fetal cardiac condition (n = 8). Thematic analysis was conducted.

The analysis generated three themes: 1) Our baby, our scan too; 2) Destination parenthood; and 3) Being in the dark, then finding the light. These themes highlight the important, but transient role of antenatal imaging in enhancing parent-fetal bonding, as well as the differing care needs of expectant parents. The integral role of healthcare professionals in providing a personalised, supportive, imaging experience to facilitate bonding is also reflected.

Adopting parent-centred care approaches which involve expectant parents in fetal imaging influences bonding by helping parents to consider the reality of their impending parenthood. Knowledge acquired during scans is used to create an identity for the unborn baby, which parents can develop an emotional connection to.

Implications for practice
To optimise the potential for enhanced parent-fetal bonding, care provision in fetal imaging should be tailored to the individual needs of expectant parents.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons CC-BY license, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Publisher Keywords: Attachment, Bonding, Fetal imaging, MRI, Parent-centred care, Pregnancy, Ultrasound
Subjects: R Medicine > RC Internal medicine
R Medicine > RG Gynecology and obstetrics
R Medicine > RJ Pediatrics > RJ101 Child Health. Child health services
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Midwifery & Radiography
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