Published:  2012-01-17

Prenatal Stress and Balance of the Child’s Cardiac Autonomic Nervous System at Age 5-6 Years

Authors:  Aimée E. van Dijk, Manon van Eijsden, Karien Stronks, Reinoud J. B. J. Gemke, Tanja G. M. Vrijkotte

Tags:  Anxiety, Autonomic nervous system, Depression, Hypertensive disorders in pregnancy, Jobs, Pregnancy, Psychological and psychosocial issues, Psychological stress

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Objective Autonomic nervous system (ANS) misbalance is a potential causal factor in the development of cardiovascular disease. The ANS may be programmed during pregnancy due to various maternal factors. Our aim is to study maternal prenatal psychosocial stress as a potential disruptor of cardiac ANS balance in the child. Methods Mothers from a prospective birth cohort (ABCD study) filled out a questionnaire at gestational week 16 [IQR 12–20], that included validated instruments for state anxiety, depressive symptoms, pregnancy-related anxiety, parenting daily hassles and job strain. A cumulative stress score was also calculated (based on 80th percentiles). Indicators of cardiac ANS in the offspring at age 5–6 years are: pre-ejection period (PEP), heart rate (HR), respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) and cardiac autonomic balance (CAB), measured with electrocardiography and impedance cardiography in resting supine and sitting positions. Results 2,624 mother-child pairs, only single births, were available for analysis. The stress scales were not significantly associated with HR, PEP, RSA and CAB (p≥0.17). Accumulation of maternal stress was also not associated with HR, PEP, RSA and CAB (p≥0.07). Conclusion Results did not support the hypothesis that prenatal maternal psychosocial stress deregulates cardiac ANS balance in the offspring, at least in rest, and at the age of five-six years.