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3D ultrasound in pregnancy : discourses, women's experiences and psychological understanding

Wadephul, Franziska


Franziska Wadephul


Julie Jomeen

Lesley Glover


This study explores discourses around private three- and four-dimensional (3/4D) ultrasound scans in pregnancy, the experiences of women who have 3/4D scans and what impact these scans may have on pregnant women.

A critical discourse analysis of scanning company websites was undertaken to explore the discourses, identities and genres set up on the websites. Longitudinal interviews exploring women’s experiences of 3/4D scans were analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis. Case studies, using longitudinal questionnaire and interview data, were used to investigate the psychological impact of 3/4D scans on pregnant women.

The critical discourse analysis revealed mixed discourses, identities and genres. While 3/4D scans are not overtly medical, they nevertheless contain medical aspects. They are promoted as enhancing bonding and reassurance. In the interview analysis, two superordinate themes emerged: ‘Getting to know the baby’ and ‘Experiences of pregnancy’. While the women’s physical and emotional experiences of pregnancy varied considerably, there were more convergences in the desire to ‘get to know’ the fetus and how women approached this. While routine and 3/4D scans played an important role, fetal movement also emerged as a significant factor. The case studies showed that the psychological impact was not consistent. Scans had no effect on fetal health locus of control, may have reduced anxiety about specific issues for some women and may have had a positive impact on some components of bonding for some women. It is not possible to state categorically that they reduce anxiety or increase bonding. The psychological impact of 3/4D scans appears to be individually mediated and depends on pregnancy experience and individual psychological differences, highlighting the significance of individual factors in both research and practice.

Two opposing discourses portray 3/4D scans as either beneficial, by enhancing reassurance and bonding, or problematic, by undermining women’s embodied knowledge and experience and being potentially risky. This study suggests that neither of these two conflicting discourses are reflected in women’s experiences. The women in this study were not motivated primarily by bonding or reassurance when choosing 3/4D scans, but considered them a nice experience; on the other hand, the scans do not seem to have had a detrimental impact either.

The interview analysis suggests that women acquire knowledge about the fetus through scans and fetal movement and combine these to make sense of the fetus. This study also provides evidence that the concept and measurement of bonding during pregnancy is problematic and that professional and academic perspectives are not necessarily reflected in women’s experiences.


Wadephul, F. (2013). 3D ultrasound in pregnancy : discourses, women's experiences and psychological understanding. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Dec 14, 2015
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Midwifery and child health
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Midwifery and Child Health, The University of Hull
Award Date Dec 1, 2013


Thesis (2.9 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2013 Wadephul, Franziska. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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