Hemodynamics of fetal breathing movements: the inferior vena cava

Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2011 Dec;38(6):658-64. doi: 10.1002/uog.9000. Epub 2011 Mar 21.


Objective: Based on the hypothesis that fetal breathing movements (FBM) enhance sections of the circulation to meet the needs of gas transport, we studied the effects of FBM on the fetal inferior vena cava (IVC), which transports blood with the lowest oxygen saturation in the fetal body.

Methods: One-hundred and ten women with low-risk singleton pregnancies were included in a longitudinal study during the second half of pregnancy. Inner diameter, peak systolic velocity and time-averaged maximum blood velocity were measured in the IVC below the ductus venosus outlet during rest and FBM. Volume flow and pressure gradient were estimated in 55 observations of forced inspiratory movements at 36 weeks of gestation. The results are presented as mean and 95% CI of the mean.

Results: Based on 585 observations obtained during fetal rest and FBM, we found no difference in diameter, 0.42 (95% CI, 0.41-0.43) cm vs. 0.41 (95% CI, 0.39-0.42) cm, respectively, apart from during high-amplitude inspiratory movement, when the diameter was 0.15 (95% CI, 0.13-0.17) cm. The peak systolic velocity was different during rest and FBM, 34.0 (95% CI, 32.7-35.3) cm/s vs. 81.5 (95% CI, 76.2-87.5) cm/s, respectively, and correspondingly for time-averaged maximum velocity, 19.7 (95% CI, 18.9-20.5) cm/s vs. 37.2 (95% CI, 34.9-39.9) cm/s, respectively. Forced inspiratory movements at 36 weeks significantly reduced flow in the IVC compared with rest, 63.6 (95% CI, 44.4-88.1) mL/min vs. 186.0 (95% CI, 142.8-238.1) mL/min, respectively. The pressure gradient increased 14-fold during forced inspiration, from 0.64 to 8.76 mmHg.

Conclusions: High-amplitude fetal inspiration substantially constricts the abdominal IVC and creates a negative pressure in the chest. The IVC constriction withholds abdominal blood, thus temporarily giving way to other flows.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Fetal Heart / diagnostic imaging
  • Fetal Heart / physiology*
  • Fetal Movement
  • Fetus / blood supply
  • Fetus / physiology*
  • Hemodynamics*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Respiratory Mechanics / physiology*
  • Ultrasonography, Prenatal / methods*
  • Vena Cava, Inferior / diagnostic imaging
  • Vena Cava, Inferior / embryology
  • Vena Cava, Inferior / physiology*
  • Young Adult