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Fetal Heart Rate and Variability: Stability and Prediction to Developmental Outcomes in Early Childhood


  • The prenatal portion of this research was supported by R01 HD 27592, NICHD, awarded to the first author. The postnatal components were supported by R40 MC00181, Maternal and Child Health Bureau, HRSA, and the Intramural Research Program of the NIH, NICHD. As always, we thank the generous and diligent participation of our study families, without which this work would not be possible.

concerning this article should be addressed to Janet DiPietro, Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 615 N. Wolfe St., E4531, Baltimore, MD 21205. Electronic mail may be sent to


Stability in cardiac indicators before birth and their utility in predicting variation in postnatal development were examined. Fetal heart rate and variability were measured longitudinally from 20 through 38 weeks gestation (n = 137) and again at age 2 (n = 79). Significant within-individual stability during the prenatal period and into childhood was demonstrated. Fetal heart rate variability at or after 28 weeks gestation and steeper developmental trajectories were significantly associated with mental and psychomotor development at 2 years (n = 82) and language ability at 2.5 years (n = 61). These data suggest that the foundations of individual differences in autonomic control originate during gestation and the developmental momentum of the fetal period continues after birth.

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