Influence of paced maternal breathing on fetal–maternal heart rate coordination

P. Van Leeuwen, D. Geue, M. Thiel, D. Cysarz, S. Lange, M. C. Romano , N. Wessel, J. Kurths, D. H. Groenemeyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Citations (Scopus)


Pregnant mothers often report a special awareness of and bonding with their unborn child. Little is known about this relationship although it may offer potential for the assessment of the fetal condition. Recently we found evidence of short epochs of fetal–maternal heart rate synchronization under uncontrolled conditions with spontaneous maternal breathing. Here, we examine whether the occurrence of such epochs can be influenced by maternal respiratory arrhythmia induced by paced breathing at several different rates (10, 12, 15, and 20 cycles per minute). To test for such weak and nonstationary synchronizations among the fetal–maternal subsystems, we apply a multivariate synchronization analysis technique and test statistics based on twin surrogates. We find a clear increase in synchronization epochs mostly at high maternal respiratory rates in the original but not in the surrogate data. On the other hand, fewer epochs are found at low respiratory rates both in original and surrogate data. The results suggest that the fetal cardiac system seems to possess the capability to adjust its rate of activation in response to external—i.e., maternal—stimulation. Hence, the pregnant mothers' special awareness to the unborn child may also be reflected by fetal–maternal interaction of cardiac activity. Our approach opens up the chance to examine this interaction between independent but closely linked physiological systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13661-13666
Number of pages6
Issue number33
Early online date13 Jul 2009
Publication statusPublished - 18 Aug 2009


  • fetal heart rate
  • maternal heart rate
  • respiration
  • synchronization
  • surrogate data


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