On the distinct differences in autonomic regulation between pregnant and non-pregnant women: a heart rate variability analysis

M. Bester (Corresponding author), R. Joshi, M. Mischi, Joeh van Laar, R. Vullings

Onderzoeksoutput: Bijdrage aan tijdschriftTijdschriftartikelAcademicpeer review

2 Citaten (Scopus)
33 Downloads (Pure)


Objective. Appropriate adaptation of the maternal autonomic nervous system to progressing gestation is essential to a healthy pregnancy. This is partly evidenced by the association between pregnancy complications and autonomic dysfunction. Therefore, assessing maternal heart rate variability (HRV)—a proxy measure for autonomic activity—may offer insights into maternal health, potentially enabling the early detection of complications. However, identifying abnormal maternal HRV requires a thorough understanding of normal maternal HRV. While HRV in women of childbearing age has been extensively investigated, less is known concerning HRV during pregnancy. Subsequently, we investigate the differences in HRV between healthy pregnant women and their non-pregnant counterparts. Approach. We use a comprehensive suite of HRV features (assessing sympathetic and parasympathetic activity, heart rate (HR) complexity, HR fragmentation, and autonomic responsiveness) to quantify HRV in large groups of healthy pregnant (n = 258) and non-pregnant women (n = 252). We compare the statistical significance and effect size of the potential differences between the groups. Main results. We find significantly increased sympathetic and decreased parasympathetic activity during healthy pregnancy, along with significantly attenuated autonomic responsiveness, which we hypothesize serves as a protective mechanism against sympathetic overactivity. HRV differences between these groups typically had a large effect size (Cohen’s d > 0.8), with the largest effect accompanying the significantly reduced HR complexity and altered sympathovagal balance observed in pregnancy (Cohen’s d > 1.2). Significance. Healthy pregnant women are autonomically distinct from their non-pregnant counterparts. Subsequently, assumptions based on HRV research in non-pregnant women cannot be readily translated to pregnant women.

Originele taal-2Engels
Aantal pagina's14
TijdschriftPhysiological Measurement
Nummer van het tijdschrift5
StatusGepubliceerd - 1 mei 2023


Duik in de onderzoeksthema's van 'On the distinct differences in autonomic regulation between pregnant and non-pregnant women: a heart rate variability analysis'. Samen vormen ze een unieke vingerafdruk.

Citeer dit