Presenting and discussing nuchal translucency screening for fetal abnormality in the UK

Midwifery. 2004 Mar;20(1):82-93. doi: 10.1016/S0266-6138(03)00056-1.


Objective: to investigate the relationship between information giving by midwives and decision-making by women offered nuchal translucency (NT) screening. To establish how risk figures are discussed in practice, with the intention of relating this to the existing, and often critical, literature on women's accounts of antenatal screening.

Design: a qualitative study following women through the process of being offered and deciding to undergo NT screening. Tape recording of consultations, analysed in their entirety, was combined with post-screening interviews.

Setting: a large teaching hospital in the UK.

Participants: fourteen pregnant women eligible for NT screening at the time of recruitment.

Data collection: (i) tape recordings of consultations between community midwives and pregnant women where nuchal translucency screening was offered; (ii) tape recordings of consultations between hospital midwives and pregnant women immediately post-screening; (iii) individual face-to-face interviews with pregnant women between two and six weeks after the screening, carried out by the first author.

Findings: NT screening was in general well received, particularly by those women who had undergone serum screening with previous pregnancies. However, communicating the nature of a risk figure is an interactionally complex process. A large amount of interactional work is required by midwives both before and after screening to ensure that women comprehend this information. Despite the emphasis placed in these consultations on understanding the purpose of NT screening and the status of the results, women often framed their decision to undergo NT screening in terms of it being a formality, or of presuming that all was well. This sometimes created practical and personal difficulties in terms of decision-making.

Key conclusions and implications for practice: previous sociological and psychological research has tended to be critical of midwives in terms of ensuring informed choice in screening, but this research is often based on post hoc accounts. Examining actual consultations with these accounts helps to illustrate the other factors that affect women's perceptions of testing, and the way in which risk, choice and decision-making are introduced and discussed in practice. Encouraging women to consider what action they might take on the basis of a personally unfavourable NT result in advance of undergoing the scan may help them to decide whether the information gained will be useful to them. Recognising the complex interactional work required in making sure that women understand the nature of the results that will be obtained is an important issue for the education and training of midwives.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Congenital Abnormalities / diagnosis*
  • Congenital Abnormalities / diagnostic imaging
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Fetal Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Fetal Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening* / psychology
  • Mass Screening* / standards
  • Midwifery / standards*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Neck / diagnostic imaging
  • Neck / embryology*
  • Nurse-Patient Relations
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, High-Risk
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal*
  • United Kingdom