What does fetal movement predict about behavior during the first two years of life?

Dev Psychobiol. 2002 May;40(4):358-71. doi: 10.1002/dev.10025.


This study evaluated whether motor activity prior to birth is predictive of motor behavior and temperament in neonates, infants, and toddlers. Three measures of fetal motor activity (activity level, amplitude, and number of movements) were collected at 24, 30, and 36 weeks of gestation in 52 healthy fetuses using Doppler-based actography. Postnatal data collection included a neurobehavioral assessment at 2-weeks postpartum (n = 41), and laboratory-based behavioral observations at 1 and 2 years of age (ns = 35). Individual stability in motor activity was present during gestation. Predictive relations between fetal movement and neonatal behavior were inconsistent; significant but small positive associations were detected between motor behavior at 36 weeks and neonatal irritability and motor development. Fetal activity level at 36 weeks was positively associated with observed 1-year activity level for boys (but inversely related for girls) and maternal report of activity level at 2 years. Fetal movement was consistently and negatively predictive of distress to limitations at 1 year and behavioral inhibition at 2 years, accounting for 21 to 43% of the variance in these measures. Intrafetal variability in motor behavior makes this a relatively unstable metric for prediction to neonatal maturational outcomes, which are relatively constrained, but fetal motor activity appears to predict temperament attributes related to regulatory behaviors in early childhood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Fetal Movement / physiology*
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Behavior / physiology*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Sex Factors
  • Temperament / physiology*
  • Time Factors