Maternal Anxiety, Mindfulness, and Heart Rate Variability During Pregnancy Influence Fetal and Infant Development

  • Bea R. H. Van den Bergh


In this chapter, we present our recently conceptualized model on Developmental Origins of Behavior, Health, and Disease (DOBHaD) in which we incorporate the results of four of our studies as examples to demonstrate how each topic influenced the model; in addition, we provide a brief overview of relevant literature. The study of DOBHaD encompasses both, short- and long-term consequences of conditions in the environment relevant to behavior, health, and disease risk and addresses research issues related to the interface between developmental, behavioral, and medical science. In the first section, one early and one later study from the Leuven prospective follow-up project are described. Study 1 examines the influence of maternal emotions on fetal and neonatal behavioral state-related activity and on infant activity. Study 2 examines the relationship between fetal behavioral states and self-regulation in childhood and adolescence. In the second section, two recent studies from the Tilburg prospective follow-up project are described. Study 3 explores how variation in both negative emotions (i.e., maternal anxiety) and positive emotions (i.e., maternal mindfulness) influence infant neurocognitive development. Study 4 explores the issue of how exposure to a past, resolved maternal anxiety disorder influences maternal heart rate variability during pregnancy as well as infant heart rate variability, which in turn influences infant temperament. In the final section we summarize our results, use them to explain applications of the DOBHaD model, and speculate on potential clinical implications.


Prenatal stress Maternal anxiety during pregnancy Maternal mindfulness during pregnancy Infant event related potentials (ERPs) Autonomic nervous system Infant temperament Fetal behavioral states Self-regulation Infant cognition Heart rate variability in pregnant women Infant heart rate variability 



I thank all parents and children of the Leuven and Tilburg cohorts for their participation in our studies and the many students who helped with the data collection. I am grateful to the (former) PhD students Drs. T. Billiet, Dr. H.R. Binderhagel, Dr.A. Bogaerts, Dr. M.A.K.A. Braeken, Dr. E.M. Loomans, Dr. K. Eggers, Dr. M.Mennes, Dr. R.A. Otte, Drs. M.I. van den Heuvel and to Dr. F. Donkers for their dedication to the longitudinal DOBHaD projects, their expertise and excellent collaboration. I thank all coauthors and collaborators for sharing their expertise and fruitful collaboration. These studies were realized with the financial support from of the Fund for Scientific Research (FWO, Flanders; grant agreement G.0211.3), the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven IMPH/06/GHW and IDO 05/010 EEG-FMRI); Tilburg University–Babylab; the European Science Foundation—EruoSTRESS project, and EU Seventh Framework Programme (FP7, Health 20112.2.2-2, grant agreement No. 279281 BRAINAGE); we are grateful for this support.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tilburg School of Social and Behavioural SciencesTilburg UniversityTilburgThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Health PsychologyCatholic University of Leuven (KU Leuven)LeuvenBelgium
  3. 3.Department of Welfare, Public Health and FamilyFlemish GovernmentBrusselsBelgium

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