Psychologists are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of 'antenatal attachment' - the bond formed between a pregnant mother and her unborn child. For example, a mother's degree of affection for her unborn child, and the amount of time she thinks about it, can predict the quality of the mother-child relationship once the baby is born. Pier Righetti (Conegliano Hospital, Italy) and colleagues investigated whether advances in ultrasound technology that provide enhanced foetal images, would strengthen the attachment formed between parents and their unborn baby.
Fifty-six women at 19-23 weeks pregnancy, and their partners, were split into two groups. Half attended a standard 2-D ultrasound appointment, and half underwent a state-of-the-art 4-D ultrasound, which provides superior imagery of the foetus, including showing its movements in real time. Before the ultrasound, and then two weeks after it, the parents completed self-report attachment questionnaires.
The strength of the mothers' attachment to their unborn baby increased significantly over the two week period, probably due in part to the foetuses starting to kick more during that time. However, the quality of the ultrasound made no difference to their strength of attachment, and the fathers' attachment didn't increase over the two weeks regardless of the ultrasound technology.
The authors point out that the improved ultrasound could have psychological benefits not tapped by the self-report questionnaires they used; that their research should be repeated at other stages of pregnancy, and with a greater number of couples.
Righetti, P.L., Avanzo, M.D., Grigio, M. & Nicolini. (2005). Maternal/paternal antenatal attachment and fourth-dimensional ultrasound technique: a preliminary report. British Journal of Psychology, 96, 129-139.
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.