Fetal heart rate reactivity differs by women's psychiatric status: an early marker for developmental risk?

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2004 Mar;43(3):283-90. doi: 10.1097/00004583-200403000-00009.


Objective: To determine whether there are differences in fetal heart rate (FHR) reactivity associated with women's psychiatric status.

Method: In 57 women in their 36th to 38th week of pregnancy (mean age 27 +/- 6 years), electrocardiogram, blood pressure (BP), respiration (RSP), and FHR were measured during baseline and a psychological challenge (a Stroop color-word matching task). Subjects underwent the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID) and completed the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory prior to testing.

Results: There was a significant main effect of maternal diagnostic group on FHR reactivity during the Stroop task even after controlling for birth weight and women's BP reactivity (F4,44 = 2.68, p =.04). Fetuses of depressed women had greater heart rate increases compared to fetuses of women with anxiety disorders and those of healthy, low-anxiety women (post hoc comparisons using the Fisher protected least significant difference test; t = 4.12, p <.05; t = 4.72, p <.01, respectively). There was a similar pattern comparing fetuses of healthy, high-anxiety women to the same two groups (t = 3.29, p <.05; t = 3.99, p <.05, respectively). There were no group differences in FHR during a resting baseline period (F4,52 = 1.2, p =.35).

Conclusions: Maternal mood disturbance is associated with alterations in children's physiological reactivity prior to birth.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Anxiety Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Depressive Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate, Fetal*
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / physiopathology*
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Third