Fetal heart rate during maternal sleep

Janet A. DiPietro, Radhika S. Raghunathan, Hau Tieng Wu, Jiawei Bai, Heather Watson, Francis P. Sgambati, Janice L. Henderson, Grace W. Pien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Despite prolonged and cumulative exposure during gestation, little is known about the fetal response to maternal sleep. Eighty-four pregnant women with obesity (based on pre-pregnancy BMI) participated in laboratory-based polysomnography (PSG) with continuous fetal electrocardiogram monitoring at 36 weeks gestation. Multilevel modeling revealed both correspondence and lack of it in maternal and fetal heart rate patterns. Fetal heart rate (fHR) and variability (fHRV), and maternal heart rate (mHR) and variability (mHRV), all declined during the night, with steeper rates of decline prior to 01:00. fHR declined upon maternal sleep onset but was not otherwise associated with maternal sleep stage; fHRV differed during maternal REM and NREM. There was frequent maternal waking after sleep onset (WASO) and fHRV and mHRV were elevated during these episodes. Cross-correlation analyses revealed little temporal coupling between maternal and fetal heart rate, except during WASO, suggesting that any observed associations in maternal and fetal heart rates during sleep are the result of other physiological processes. Implications of the maternal sleep context for the developing fetus are discussed, including the potential consequences of the typical sleep fragmentation that accompanies pregnancy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)945-959
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental Psychobiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • fetal heart rate
  • fetus
  • maternal-fetal interaction
  • polysomnography
  • prenatal development
  • sleep

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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