Fetal breathing is associated with increased umbilical blood flow

Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2010 Dec;36(6):718-23. doi: 10.1002/uog.7701. Epub 2010 Jun 2.


Objectives: In humans, fetal breathing movements affect blood velocities in the umbilical vein and artery, but it is not known whether fetal respiratory activity is associated with increased fetal blood flow through the placenta. We therefore tested this hypothesis in the present study.

Methods: One-hundred and ten women with low-risk singleton pregnancies were each examined three times by ultrasound during the second half of pregnancy. Fetal heart rate, umbilical artery blood velocity, umbilical vein diameter and blood velocity, and umbilical blood flow at the placental end were determined during fetal rest and fetal respiratory movements.

Results: Based on 330 observations obtained during fetal rest or breathing activity, no difference was found in the mean fetal heart rate (beats per minute (bpm)) during rest compared with breathing (142 bpm vs. 142 bpm, respectively). Although fetal breathing affected the umbilical artery waveform, there was no difference in the mean time-averaged maximum velocity between rest and breathing: 26.6 (95% CI, 25.1-28.3) cm/s vs. 28.9 (95% CI, 27.2-30.7) cm/s, respectively. The umbilical vein was 27% greater in cross-sectional area and the blood velocity 9% higher during breathing, resulting in a 42% increase in mean umbilical blood flow: 121.8 (95% CI, 109.5-135.0) mL/min at rest vs. 173.0 (95% CI, 158.0-188.6) mL/min during breathing. Venous velocity was calculated from recordings of mean duration 3.7 s at rest and 6.2 s of respiratory activity. Gestational age did not influence the relationship.

Conclusion: Fetal breathing is associated with increased umbilical blood flow during the second half of pregnancy. Umbilical vein distension during breathing suggests active endocrine regulation.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Blood Flow Velocity / physiology
  • Female
  • Fetal Heart / diagnostic imaging
  • Fetal Heart / physiology*
  • Fetal Movement
  • Gestational Age
  • Heart Rate, Fetal
  • Humans
  • Placenta / blood supply*
  • Placenta / diagnostic imaging
  • Pregnancy
  • Respiration
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal
  • Umbilical Arteries / diagnostic imaging
  • Umbilical Arteries / physiology*
  • Umbilical Veins / diagnostic imaging
  • Umbilical Veins / physiology*
  • Young Adult