Fetal cardiac autonomic control during breathing and non-breathing epochs: The effect of maternal exercise

Kathleen M. Gustafson, Linda E. May, Hung wen Yeh, Stephanie K. Million, John JB Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

30 Scopus citations

Abstract

We explored whether maternal exercise during pregnancy moderates the effect of fetal breathing movements on fetal cardiac autonomic control assessed by metrics of heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV). Thirty women were assigned to Exercise or Control group (n = 15/group) based on the modifiable physical activity questionnaire (MPAQ). Magnetocardiograms (MCG) were recorded using a dedicated fetal biomagnetometer. Periods of fetal breathing activity and apnea were identified using the fetal diaphragmatic magnetomyogram (dMMG) as a marker. MCG R-waves were marked. Metrics of fetal HR and HRV were compared using 1 breathing and1 apneic epoch/fetus. The main effects of group (Exercise vs. Control) and condition (Apnea vs. Breathing) and their interactions were explored. Fetal breathing resulted in significantly lower fetal HR and higher vagally-mediated HRV. Maternal exercise resulted in significantly lower fetal HR, higher total HRV and vagally-mediated HRV with no difference in frequency band ratios. Significant interactions between maternal exercise and fetal breathing were found for metrics summarizing total HRV and a parasympathetic metric. Post hoc comparison showed no group difference during fetal apnea. Fetal breathing was associated with a loss of Total HRV in the Control group and no difference in the Exercise group. Both groups show enhanced vagal function during fetal breathing; greater in the Exercise group. During in utero breathing movements, the fetus of the exercising mother has enhanced cardiac autonomic function that may give the offspring an adaptive advantage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)539-546
Number of pages8
JournalEarly Human Development
Volume88
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012

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Keywords

  • Autonomic nervous system
  • Diaphragm activation
  • Exercise
  • Fetal biomagnetometry
  • Magnetocardiogram

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology

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