Background and aim
Use of ultrasound scans early in pregnancy is increasing, but we have limited knowledge about the actual prevalence, associated decision-making and impact on expectant women/couples in a general population. The aim of this study was to document the use of, and experiences related to, foetal scanning before the recommended 19th week scan among pregnant women in Iceland.
Population and methods
The data come from the Icelandic Childbirth and Health Cohort Study 2009–11. A total of 1111 women attending prenatal care at primary care health centres answered questionnaires before mid-pregnancy and after birth, including questions about the number of scanning procedures during pregnancy. These might include consumer-initiated ‘pregnancy confirmation scans,’ scans for clinical reasons, and screening for foetal anomalies in week 11–14 which is optional in Iceland. The questionnaires also addressed parental decision-making associated with the 11–14 week screening, perception of the pre-screening information, reasons for attending or declining, and whether/how early foetal screening affected the women’s concerns related to the unborn child.
A total of 95% of the women reported some kind of foetal ultrasound scanning before the 19th week scan, and 64% reported two or more scans in this period. 78% of the women chose to participate in screening for foetal anomalies in week 11–14. Decision-making in relation to this screening was mainly informed by sources outside the healthcare system, and many women characterized participation as ‘self-evident’. Most women felt they got sufficient information about the scope of screening, whilst information regarding potential downsides and risks was frequently perceived as insufficient. Most women who chose the 11–14 week screening reported a reassuring or neutral effect, whilst 10% of the women reported that it increased their concerns related to their unborn child.
Ultrasound scans in the first half of pregnancy are in high use in Iceland and have apparently become part of a broader pregnancy culture, encompassing both high- and low-risk pregnancies. Whether this is a favourable development or to some extent represents unwarranted medicalization, can be debated. More balanced information might be provided prior to early screening for foetal anomalies.