The effects of maternal depression on fetal heart rate response to vibroacoustic stimulation

Dev Neuropsychol. 2001;20(3):639-51. doi: 10.1207/S15326942DN2003_6.


To better understand the effects of untreated maternal depression on the fetus, this study examined fetal heart rate (FHR) and FHR reactivity to vibroacoustic stimulation in pregnant women with untreated depression. The 20 participants were 32- to 36-week pregnant women divided into groups with depression (N = 10) and without depression (N = 10) based on the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI; Beck, 1977; Beck & Steer, 1987). Participants were attached to a fetal heart monitor, and 10 min of baseline FHR were recorded. A vibroacoustic stimulus (VAS) was presented, and an additional 10 min of FHR were recorded. Fetuses of mothers with depression had an elevated baseline FHR and a 3.5-fold delay in return to baseline FHR after VAS presentation. Additionally, mothers with depression had significantly higher anxiety levels and took fewer prenatal vitamins during pregnancy. Delayed habituation of FHR in the fetuses of mothers with depression may be due to alterations in the internal hormonal environment and could have implications for postnatal information processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation* / psychology
  • Adult
  • Depression / complications*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate, Fetal*
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Vibration*