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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Fetal response to maternal hunger and satiation – novel finding from a qualitative descriptive study of maternal perception of fetal movements

Billie Bradford* and Robyn Maude

Author Affiliations

Graduate School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health, Victoria University of Wellington, P O Box 7625, 6242, Newtown Wellington, New Zealand

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2014, 14:288  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-14-288

Published: 26 August 2014

Abstract

Background

Maternal perception of decreased fetal movements is a specific indicator of fetal compromise, notably in the context of poor fetal growth. There is currently no agreed numerical definition of decreased fetal movements, with the subjective perception of a decrease on the part of the mother being the most significant definition clinically. Both qualitative and quantitative aspects of fetal activity may be important in identifying the compromised fetus.Yet, how pregnant women perceive and describe fetal activity is under-investigated by qualitative means. The aim of this study was to explore normal fetal activity, through first-hand descriptive accounts by pregnant women.

Methods

Using qualitative descriptive methodology, interviews were conducted with 19 low-risk women experiencing their first pregnancy, at two timepoints in their third trimester. Interview transcripts were later analysed using qualitative content analysis and patterns of fetal activity identified were then considered along-side the characteristics of the women and their birth outcomes.

Results

This paper focuses on a novel finding; the description by pregnant women of fetal behaviour indicative of hunger and satiation. Full findings will be presented in later papers. Most participants (74% 14 of 19) indicated mealtimes were a time of increased fetal activity. Eight participants provided detailed descriptions of increased activity around meals, with seven (37% 7 of 19) of these specifying increased fetal activity prior to meals or in the context of their own hunger. These movements were interpreted as a fetal demand for food often prompting the mother to eat. Interestingly, the women who described increased fetal activity in the context of hunger subsequently gave birth to smaller infants (mean difference 364 gm) than those who did not describe a fetal response to hunger.

Conclusions

Food seeking behaviour may have a pre-birth origin. Maternal-fetal interaction around mealtimes could constitute an endocrine mediated communication, in the interests of maintaining optimal intrauterine conditions. Further research is warranted to explore this phenomenon and the potential influence of feeding on the temporal organisation of fetal activity in relation to growth.

Keywords:
Fetal development; Fetal movement; Maternal-fetal exchange; Hunger