Fetal responses to induced maternal relaxation during pregnancy

Janet A. DiPietro, Kathleen A. Costigan, Priscilla Nelson, Edith D. Gurewitsch, Mark L. Laudenslager

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Fetal responses to induced maternal relaxation during the 32nd week of pregnancy were recorded in 100 maternal-fetal pairs using a digitized data collection system. The 18-min guided imagery relaxation manipulation generated significant changes in maternal heart rate, skin conductance, respiration period, and respiratory sinus arrhythmia. Significant alterations in fetal neurobehavior were observed, including decreased fetal heart rate (FHR), increased FHR variability, suppression of fetal motor activity (FM), and increased FM-FHR coupling. Attribution of the two fetal cardiac responses to the guided imagery procedure itself, as opposed to simple rest or recumbency, is tempered by the observed pattern of response. Evaluation of correspondence between changes within individual maternal-fetal pairs revealed significant associations between maternal autonomic measures and fetal cardiac patterns, lower umbilical and uterine artery resistance and increased FHR variability, and declining salivary cortisol and FM activity. Potential mechanisms that may mediate the observed results are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-19
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Autonomic nervous system
  • Fetal development
  • Fetal heart rate
  • Fetal movement
  • HPA axis
  • Maternal stress
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal
  • Relaxation
  • Respiratory sinus arrhythmia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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