Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Is there evidence of fetal-maternal heart rate synchronization?

Peter Van Leeuwen1*, Daniel Geue2, Silke Lange2, Dirk Cysarz3, Henrik Bettermann3 and Dietrich HW Grönemeyer2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biomagnetism, Research and Development Center for Microtherapy (EFMT), Bochum, D-44799 Germany

2 Grönemeyer Institute for Microtherapy, University of Witten/Herdecke, D-44799 Bochum, Germany

3 Department of Clinical Research, Gemeinschaftskrankenhaus, D-58313 Herdecke, Germany

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BMC Physiology 2003, 3:2  doi:10.1186/1472-6793-3-2

Published: 17 April 2003



The prenatal condition offers a unique possibility of examining physiological interaction between individuals. Goal of this work was to look for evidence of coordination between fetal and maternal cardiac systems.


177 magnetocardiograms were recorded in 62 pregnancies (16th–42nd week of gestation). Fetal and maternal RR interval time series were constructed and the phases, i.e. the timing of the R peaks of one time series in relation to each RR interval of the other were determined. The distributions of these phases were examined and synchrograms were constructed for real and surrogate pairs of fetal and maternal data sets. Synchronization epochs were determined for defined n:m coupling ratios.


Differences between real and surrogate data could not be found with respect to number of synchronization epochs found (712 vs. 741), gestational age, subject, recording or n:m combination. There was however a preference for the occurrence of synchronization epochs in specific phases in real data not apparent in the surrogate for some n:m combinations.


The results suggest that occasional coupling between fetal and maternal cardiac systems does occur.