Fetal autonomic response to severe acidaemia during labour

J. O. E. H. van Laar*, C. H. L. Peters, Rik Vullings, S. Houterman, J. W. M. Bergmans, S. G. Oei

*Corresponding author for this work

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Spectral analysis of heart-rate variability is used to monitor autonomic nervous system fluctuations. The low-frequency component is associated with sympathetic and parasympathetic modulation and the high-frequency component is associated with parasympathetic modulation. The objective was to study whether changes in low-frequency or high-frequency power of heart-rate variability occur in case of fetal distress.Case-control study.Obstetric unit of a tertiary-care teaching hospital.Twenty healthy human fetuses during labour at term of which ten had an umbilical artery pH <7.05 (cases), and ten had an arterial pH > 7.20 (controls) after birth.Spectral information about fetal beat-to-beat heart rate, calculated from direct fetal electrocardiogram registrations, was obtained by using a short-time Fourier transform.Absolute power and normalised power in the low-frequency and high-frequency bands.No differences were found between fetuses with and without acidaemia in absolute low or high frequency power (P = 0.2 and P = 0.3, respectively). During the last 30 minutes of labour, acidaemic fetuses had significantly increased normalised low-frequency power (P = 0.01) and decreased normalised high-frequency power (P = 0.03) compared with non-acidaemic fetuses. These differences were not observed from 3 to 2 hours before birth (P = 0.7 and P = 0.9, respectively).The autonomic nervous system of human fetuses at term responds adequately to severe stress during labour. Normalised low and high frequency power of heart-rate variability might be able to discriminate between normal and abnormal fetal condition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)429-437
JournalBjog-an International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2010


  • Fetal distress
  • fetal heart rate variability
  • frequency analysis
  • spectral analysis

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