Effects of Fetal Images Produced in Virtual Reality on Maternal-Fetal Attachment: Randomized Controlled Trial

J Med Internet Res. 2023 Feb 24:25:e43634. doi: 10.2196/43634.


Background: Maternal-fetal attachment (MFA) has been reported to be associated with the postpartum mother-infant relationship. Seeing the fetus through ultrasound might influence MFA, and the effect could be increased by more realistic images, such as those generated in virtual reality (VR).

Objective: The aim was to determine the effect of fetal images generated in VR on MFA and depressive symptoms through a prenatal-coaching mobile app.

Methods: This 2-arm parallel randomized controlled trial involved a total of 80 pregnant women. Eligible women were randomly assigned to either a mobile app-only group (n=40) or an app plus VR group (n=40). The VR group experienced their own baby's images generated in VR based on images obtained from fetal ultrasonography. The prenatal-coaching mobile app recommended health behavior for the pregnant women according to gestational age, provided feedback on entered data for maternal weight, blood pressure, and glucose levels, and included a private diary service for fetal ultrasound images. Both groups received the same app, but the VR group also viewed fetal images produced in VR; these images were stored in the app. All participants filled out questionnaires to assess MFA, depressive symptoms, and other basic medical information. The questionnaires were filled out again after the interventions.

Results: Basic demographic data were comparable between the 2 groups. Most of the assessments showed comparable results for the 2 groups, but the mean score to assess interaction with the fetus was significantly higher for the VR group than the control group (0.4 vs 0.1, P=.004). The proportion of participants with an increased score for this category after the intervention was significantly higher in the VR group than the control group (43% vs 13%, P=.005). The feedback questionnaire revealed that scores for the degree of perception of fetal appearance all increased after the intervention in the VR group.

Conclusions: The use of a mobile app with fetal images in VR significantly increased maternal interaction with the fetus.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT04942197; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04942197.

Keywords: fetus; maternal health; maternal-fetal attachment; mental well-being; mobile app; mobile health app; pediatric; postpartum depression; pregnancy; ultrasound; virtual reality; women's health.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Fetus
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Postpartum Period
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Care
  • Virtual Reality*

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT04942197