Ultrasounds and Maternal-Fetal Attachment

My group is exploring the connection between sound and the mind, body and soul. My research looks at the experience of having an ultrasound done during pregnancy. Central to this is the maternal-fetal attachment. This audiovisual experience enhances attachment by giving the expectant mother an opportunity to see the fetus in motion, helping her to make a connection prenatally. The picture of the fetus combined with the doctor explaining what various parts of the picture are in relation to the body helps the woman to understand the reality that she is going to be a mother, and this will be her child. Additionally, the woman is able to see the fetus growing over time as it starts to look more and more like a baby. This connection between souls has become an important part of maternal-fetal bonding in the Western world and is a great experience for an expectant mother.


The sound I included is an ultrasound being conducted on a pregnant woman. The frequency of ultrasounds is so high that it cannot be heard by the human ear; only the image based on the movement of sound waves can be heard. The technology used in this clip is unique because it adjusts the frequency of the ultrasound to a point where it can be heard. The knowledge of what this sounds like is helpful in comprehending the full picture of the woman’s involvement in the ultrasound because it adds an audible component to the central aspect of the experience.


Sonograms: Painting Sound and Altering Psychological States

Humans have made many exciting developments over the course of history. One development that is hard to believe is painting pictures with sound. “Ultrasound imaging, also called ultrasound scanning or sonography, involves the use of a small transducer (probe) and ultrasound gel to expose the body to high-frequency sound waves” (General).

These sound waves cannot be heard by the human ear, and don’t have the potential to cause bodily harm such as the ionizing rays of an X-ray might cause. These sound waves are able to be compiled into visual images of internal organs and what is inside them. One of the common uses of sonograms is to check on a developing fetus in a pregnant woman. At first, these images were two-dimensional. Further technological advances allowed for three-dimensional images to be constructed based on location of the sound waves, but scientist weren’t done yet. Modern technology supports the use of “four-dimensional ultrasounds”, the fourth dimension being motion. This enables expecting parents and their doctors to be able to see the fetus’ motion in current time. Through many studies, this has been shown to have a profound psychological impact on pregnant females. An ultrasound with a positive outcome can help reduce situational anxiety in women, which is the anxiety they experience in the context of being concerned about the fetus. However, ultrasounds can have a negative effect by increasing maternal anxiety if something appears to be wrong with the fetus. Increased anxiety is not healthy for expectant mothers because hormonal changes are causing a high amount of mood fluctuations as it is. Ultrasounds can also have the positive effect of increasing maternal-fetal attachment. I am studying how ultrasounds work and the psychological impact of ultrasounds on pregnant females in order to determine how these ultrasounds effect maternal-fetal attachment and maternal anxiety, two very important psychological factors in the success of pregnancy.

Typically, ultrasounds show a healthy fetus, enabling the expectant mother to relax. This was proven in a study carried out by The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. “Anxiety levels were measured before and after ultrasound examination in 183 women who underwent the procedure as part of their routine prenatal care…. The results indicated significant reductions in state or situational anxiety levels for all subjects” (Zlotogorski). These women all showed that things were going as expected, causing their anxiety levels to decrease.


There are many sonogram outcomes that can be anxiety-producing. For example, a woman may discover she is pregnant with multiples, up to seven or eight fetuses at once. “With multiple pregnancies, a reduction of embryos is often suggested” (Extraordinary). It typically causes distress for women to choose between voluntarily terminating some fetuses but not others, or risk losing some, or all, of the fetuses. They risks and benefits have to be carefully weighed, as well as the emotional factors. Before ultrasound technology, women wouldn’t know how many children they were having until delivery, so this anxiety-producing situation was averted in such pregnancies. Another stressful situation for the mother is if it is discovered that the fetus has some difficulty such as a heart defect or physical distinction. Although this can be helpful from a prenatal treatment perspective, the emotional trauma on the mother can be so devastating that she changes eating or other heath patterns, and causes further damage to the fetus.

Another positive psychological effect of ultrasounds for pregnant women is that an opportunity to see their fetus before birth, which was not previously available as an option. This can greatly increase maternal-fetal attachment, which typically causes greater mother-child attachment after the birth. Additionally, the technology of three-dimensional ultrasounds (3DUS) has had an even greater impact on mothers than the traditional two-dimensional ultrasounds (2DUS), on this bond. A 2005 research study conducted by radiologists from six universities around the globe was able to support this theory. “3DUS appears to more positively influence the perceptions of mothers to their babies post birth compared to 2DUS. Specifically, mothers who had 3DUS showed their ultrasound images to a greater number of people compared to mothers who had 2DUS alone and this may represent mother’s social support system. 3DUS may have a greater impact on the maternal-fetal bonding process” (Ji).

“Ultrasound Scan is frequently used in people’s everyday life…. The use of this new technology… turned out to be much wider than many once expected in the first ten years of the invention of this device” (Wu). It is clear that ultrasound scanning can have important positive psychological impacts on expectant mothers, including increasing maternal-fetal attachment and reducing anxiety levels. Although it can increase anxiety if there is a complication with the fetus, this is helpful for prenatal health in the aggregate because problems can be addressed at an early stage.

Works Cited

Extraordinary People- Identical Quads. Perf. Julie Carles and José Mathias. 2006. YouTube. Web. 11 Mar. 2013. . This is a film about a couple getting ready to have identical quadruplets.

The role of ultrasounds in the infants’ health as well as the mother’s emotional reactions throughout the pregnancy are emphasized. It gives interesting sociological and psychological perspectives on ultrasounds.


“General Ultrasound Imaging.” Radiology Info. Radiological Society of North America, Inc, 2 July 2012. Web. 11 Mar. 2013. .

This website goes into more specific detail about how an ultrasound works, and what women can expect and need to prepare when going to an ultrasound appointment. It also talks about limitations of sonograms and other relevant topics in ultrasound technology.


Ji, E.K, D.H Pretorius, R. Newton, K. Uyan, A.D Hull, K. Hollenbach, and T.R Nelson. “Effects of Ultrasound On Maternal-Fetal Bonding: A Comparison of Two- and Three-Dimensional Imaging.” Ultrasound in Obstetrics & Gynecology 25.5 (2005): 473-77. Wiley Online Libarary. Web. 11 Mar. 2013. .

This journal article goes further into detail by describing the differences in psychological effects on mothers between 2 and 3 dimensional images. This provides a really interesting and detailed perspective. The data was obtained empirically through a psychological research study.



Wu, Hang. “Possible Psychological Effects of Ultrasound Scanning on Women.” (2001): n. pag. Minnesota State University Department of Psychology. Web. 11 Mar. 2013. .

This is an empirical study of psychological effects of ultrasounds on expecting mothers. It has specific data to back up a lot of my hypotheses as well as data on other hypotheses, Questionnaires with relevant questions were administered to thirty women and quantitatively analyzed.


Zlotogorski, Z., Tadmor, O., Duniec, E., Rabinowitz, R. and Diaman, Y. (1995), Anxiety levels of pregnant women during ultrasound examination: coping styles, amount of feedback and learned resourcefulness. Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol, 6: 425–429. doi: 10.1046/j.1469-0705.1995.06060425.

This journal article gives the details of a peer-reviewed study of the effects of ultrasounds for pregnant women on their anxiety levels. It uses empirical data to support its conclusions, and uses research methods widely approved by the psychological community.