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First and second trimester ultrasound in pregnancy: A systematic review and metasynthesis of the views and experiences of pregnant women, partners, and health workers

Moncrieff, Gill; Finlayson, Kenneth; Cordey, Sarah; McCrimmon, Rebekah; Harris, Catherine; Barreix, Maria; Tunçalp, Özge; Downe, Soo


Gill Moncrieff

Kenneth Finlayson

Sarah Cordey

Rebekah McCrimmon

Catherine Harris

Maria Barreix

Özge Tunçalp

Soo Downe


The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends one ultrasound scan before 24 weeks gestation as part of routine antenatal care (WHO 2016). We explored influences on provision and uptake through views and experiences of pregnant women, partners, and health workers.

We undertook a systematic review (PROSPERO CRD42021230926). We derived summaries of findings and overarching themes using metasynthesis methods. We searched MEDLINE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, SocIndex, LILACS, and AIM (Nov 25th 2020) for qualitative studies reporting views and experiences of routine ultrasound provision to 24 weeks gestation, with no language or date restriction. After quality assessment, data were logged and analysed in Excel. We assessed confidence in the findings using Grade-CERQual.

From 7076 hits, we included 80 papers (1994–2020, 23 countries, 16 LICs/MICs, over 1500 participants). We identified 17 review findings, (moderate or high confidence: 14/17), and four themes: sociocultural influences and expectations; the power of visual technology; joy and devastation: consequences of ultrasound findings; the significance of relationship in the ultrasound encounter. Providing or receiving ultrasound was positive for most, reportedly increasing parental-fetal engagement. However, abnormal findings were often shocking. Some reported changing future reproductive decisions after equivocal results, even when the eventual diagnosis was positive. Attitudes and behaviours of sonographers influenced service user experience. Ultrasound providers expressed concern about making mistakes, recognising their need for education, training, and adequate time with women. Ultrasound sex determination influenced female feticide in some contexts, in others, termination was not socially acceptable. Overuse was noted to reduce clinical antenatal skills as well as the use and uptake of other forms of antenatal care. These factors influenced utility and equity of ultrasound in some settings.

Though antenatal ultrasound was largely seen as positive, long-term adverse psychological and reproductive consequences were reported for some. Gender inequity may be reinforced by female feticide following ultrasound in some contexts. Provider attitudes and behaviours, time to engage fully with service users, social norms, access to follow up, and the potential for overuse all need to be considered.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 22, 2021
Online Publication Date Dec 14, 2021
Publication Date 2021
Deposit Date Feb 13, 2023
Publicly Available Date Feb 13, 2023
Journal PLOS ONE
Print ISSN 1932-6203
Publisher Public Library of Science
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 16
Issue 12
Article Number e0261096


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