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Creighton study: 3D-printed fetal models boost maternal bonding

3D-Printed Fetal ModelA randomized, peer-reviewed Creighton University study that breaks new ground in the science of maternal bonding has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, the official publication of the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses.

The study, which was conducted over the past 15 months and involved 96 expectant mothers, found that presenting the women with a 3D-printed model of their gestating child almost doubled the degree of maternal attachment. The study adds to existing evidence that found pregnant women presented with a 3D ultrasound fetal photograph instead of a standard ultrasound image also experience enhanced maternal bonding.

The study was a collaboration between John Coté, MD, assistant professor in the Creighton University School of Medicine and practitioner in obstetrics and gynecology; Amy Badura Brack, PhD, professor of psychology in the Creighton University Department of Psychological Science; and Ryan Walters, a statistician and assistant professor at the Creighton University School of Medicine.

The study separated 96 pregnant volunteers into two equal groups. All completed the Maternal Antenatal Attachment Scale (MAAS) questionnaire, which asks a series of questions designed to assess maternal attachment to the developing fetus. One group of 48 women was subsequently provided with a standard 3D ultrasound image, while the other group of 48 women received the same 3D image plus a 3D printed model. Fourteen days later, all 96 women took the MAAS questionnaire again, yielding maternal attachment scores for the women supplied with the 3D model 95 percent higher than those who received only the 3D photographic image.

Coté said the findings improve the likelihood that women will avoid potentially harmful practices such as smoking and drinking while pregnant.

Coté said the possibility that 3D models might strengthen maternal attachment occurred to him after he provided such a model to a mother whose baby would be born with a cleft lip and palate.

“It became obvious it was very impactful. She was very appreciative,” he said, and consequently dealt with the issue much better than relatives who had not seen the 3D model.

“A light bulb went on, and I thought this is cool,” Coté said.

Realizing he needed to recruit psychological and psychiatric expertise if a study were to properly assess maternal attachment, Coté approached his Creighton colleagues.

“I knocked on a few doors in psychiatry, found Dr. Badura Brack and asked if she could help,” he said. Badura said she immediately saw the potential for enhancing the psychological attachment of mother and child.

“Just as a mom, and not as a scientist, I enjoyed seeing a flat, 2D image when I was pregnant,” she said. “I would have preferred to see a 3D image, and certainly a 3D model. You want to know this child that’s growing inside you.”

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