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Biol Psychol. 2012 Jan;89(1):14-20. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2011.07.005. Epub 2011 Jul 28.

Physiological blunting during pregnancy extends to induced relaxation.

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Department of Population, Family & Reproductive Health, 615 N. Wolfe St, W1033, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD 21205, United States.


There is accumulating evidence that pregnancy is accompanied by hyporesponsivity to physical, cognitive, and psychological challenges. This study evaluates whether observed autonomic blunting extends to conditions designed to decrease arousal. Physiological and psychological responsivity to an 18-min guided imagery relaxation protocol in healthy pregnant women during the 32nd week of gestation (n=54) and non-pregnant women (n=28) was measured. Data collection included heart period (HP), respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), tonic and phasic measures of skin conductance (SCL and NS-SCR), respiratory period (RP), and self-reported psychological relaxation. As expected, responses to the manipulation included increased HP, RSA, and RP and decreased SCL and NS-SCR, followed by post-manipulation recovery. However, responsivity was attenuated for all physiological measures except RP in pregnant women, despite no difference in self-reported psychological relaxation. Findings support non-specific blunting of physiological responsivity during pregnancy.

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