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The influence of antenatal imaging on prenatal bonding in uncomplicated pregnancies: a mixed methods analysis

Skelton, E. ORCID: 0000-0003-0132-7948, Cromb, D., Smith, A. , Harrison, G. ORCID: 0000-0003-2795-8190, Rutherford, M., Malamateniou, C. ORCID: 0000-0002-2352-8575 & Ayers, S. ORCID: 0000-0002-6153-2460 (2024). The influence of antenatal imaging on prenatal bonding in uncomplicated pregnancies: a mixed methods analysis. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth, 265(1), article number 265. doi: 10.1186/s12884-024-06469-0


Prenatal bonding describes the emotional connection expectant parents form to their unborn child. Research acknowledges the association between antenatal imaging and enhanced bonding, but the influencing factors are not well understood, particularly for fathers or when using advanced techniques like fetal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This study aimed to identify variables which may predict increased bonding after imaging.

First-time expectant parents (mothers = 58, fathers = 18) completed a two-part questionnaire (QualtricsXM™) about their expectations and experiences of ultrasound (n = 64) or fetal MRI (n = 12) scans in uncomplicated pregnancies. A modified version of the Prenatal Attachment Inventory (PAI) was used to measure bonding. Qualitative data were collected through open-ended questions. Multivariate linear regression models were used to identify significant parent and imaging predictors for bonding. Qualitative content analysis of free-text responses was conducted to further understand the predictors’ influences.

Bonding scores were significantly increased after imaging for mothers and fathers (p < 0.05). MRI-parents reported significantly higher bonding than ultrasound-parents (p = 0.02). In the first regression model of parent factors (adjusted R2 = 0.17, F = 2.88, p < 0.01), employment status (β = -0.38, p < 0.05) was a significant predictor for bonding post-imaging. The second model of imaging factors (adjusted R2 = 0.19, F = 3.85, p < 0.01) showed imaging modality (β = -0.53), imaging experience (β = 0.42) and parental excitement after the scan (β = 0.29) were significantly (p < 0.05) associated with increased bonding. Seventeen coded themes were generated from the qualitative content analysis, describing how scans offered reassurance about fetal wellbeing and the opportunity to connect with the baby through quality interactions with imaging professionals. A positive scan experience helped parents to feel excited about parenthood. Fetal MRI was considered a superior modality to ultrasound.

Antenatal imaging provides reassurance of fetal development which affirms parents’ emotional investment in the pregnancy and supports the growing connection. Imaging professionals are uniquely positioned to provide parent-centred experiences which may enhance parental excitement and facilitate bonding.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.
Publisher Keywords: Attachment, Bonding, Fetal, Imaging, MRI, Parent, Ultrasound
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Midwifery & Radiography
SWORD Depositor:
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