Pre-scan talk of defects stresses mothers

WARNING pregnant women about potential foetal abnormalities prior to scans causes undue stress to expectant mothers, new research has found.

The study, carried out by Joan Lalor, Health Research Board clinical midwifery fellow, found women do not want a list of possible defects in their unborn child before having an ultrasound scan.

The research, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, shows that while women want to be told early on if a problem is detected, they don’t want a detailed list of possible problems in advance of a scan.

Some 38 women were interviewed — after defects were detected during their second trimester scan — to ascertain how prepared they were for the results.

One woman told researchers that healthcare professionals needed to find a balance between telling expectant mothers nothing and “frightening the living daylights out of people”.

Another said that if she’d been given a list of detectable anomalies she’d have been fretting for a week before her scan. “And who wants that?” she said.

Most of the women surveyed had no idea there was a problem with their baby.

“Women expressed how, in addition to already having had healthy children, feeling well, experiencing normal pregnancy symptoms and an absence of foetal anomalies in their family and immediate social circle, increased their confidence that their baby was OK,” Ms Lalor said.

However, most women still felt it was better to know, as early as possible, if an anomaly had been detected, to give them time to prepare for the future.

Ten of the women were carrying their first child and 28 had been pregnant before. The expectant mothers ranged from 18 to 44 years. Fifteen of the 39 foetuses were affected by fatal anomalies. However, overall, anomalies only affect about 2% of pregnancies.

Ms Lalor recommended healthcare professionals schedule sufficient time before scans to ask women about their worries and provide information tailored to their needs. This, she said, is a better option than an across-the-board system of pre-scan warnings.

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