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Dev Psychobiol. 2000 Jan;36(1):67-77.

Maternal stress responses and anxiety during pregnancy: effects on fetal heart rate.

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Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University, and Behavioral Medicine Program, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, 622 West 168th Street, New York, NY 10032, USA.


This study examined the effect of an acute maternal stress response and anxiety on fetal heart rate. Seventeen healthy, 3rd-trimester pregnant women (mean age = 26 +/- 6 years) were instrumented for continuous electrocardiography, blood pressure (BP), respiration, and fetal heart rate (HR). Subjects completed the state anxiety subscale of the State Trait Personality Inventory (STPI), then rested quietly in a semirecumbent position for a 5-min baseline period, followed by either a 5-min arithmetic or Stroop color-word task. Over the entire 5-min stress period and when averaged across all subjects, the stressors led to significant increases in maternal systolic BP and respiratory rate but changes in maternal HR, diastolic BP, and fetal HR were not significant. However, when subjects were dichotomized into groups that had above or below average anxiety scores [ANX(+) and ANX(-)], both groups had similar respiration rate increases to the stressors, but the BP and fetal heart rate (FHR) responses were significantly different. Women in the ANX(-) group had significantly greater BP responses compared to women in the ANX(+) group whereas the fetuses of ANX(+) women showed significant HR increases and the fetuses of ANX(-) women exhibited nonsignificant decreases. These findings suggest that women's acute emotional reactivity during pregnancy can influence fetal HR patterns and that a stress-induced increase in maternal BP is not the primary signal by which a women's stress response is transduced to her fetus. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that maternal psychological variables may shape the neurobehavioral development of the fetus.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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