Characterization of the fetal diaphragmatic magnetomyogram and the effect of breathing movements on cardiac metrics of rate and variability

Kathleen M. Gustafson, John J.B. Allen, Hung wen Yeh, Linda E. May

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Breathing movements are one of the earliest fetal motor behaviors to emerge and are a hallmark of fetal well-being. Fetal respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) has been documented but efforts to quantify the influence of breathing on heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) are difficult due to the episodic nature of fetal breathing activity. We used a dedicated fetal biomagnetometer to acquire the magnetocardiogram (MCG) between 36 and 38. weeks gestational age (GA). We identified and characterized a waveform observed in the raw data and independent component decomposition that we attribute to fetal diaphragmatic movements during breathing episodes. RSA and increased high frequency power in a time-frequency analysis of the IBI time-series was observed during fetal breathing periods. Using the diaphragmatic magnetomyogram (dMMG) as a marker, we compared time and frequency domain metrics of heart rate and heart rate variability between breathing and non-breathing epochs. Fetal breathing activity resulted in significantly lower HR, increased high frequency power, greater sympathovagal balance, increased short-term HRV and greater parasympathetic input relative to non-breathing episodes confirming the specificity of fetal breathing movements on parasympathetic cardiac influence. No significant differences between breathing and non-breathing epochs were found in two metrics reflecting total HRV or very low, low and intermediate frequency bands. Using the fetal dMMG as a marker, biomagnetometry can help to elucidate the electrophysiologic mechanisms associated with diaphragmatic motor function and may be used to study the longitudinal development of human fetal cardiac autonomic control and breathing activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)467-475
Number of pages9
JournalEarly Human Development
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2011


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

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


Dive into the research topics of 'Characterization of the fetal diaphragmatic magnetomyogram and the effect of breathing movements on cardiac metrics of rate and variability'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this