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BACKGROUND: Heart rate variability (HRV) has emerged as a predictor of later cardiac risk. This study tested whether pregnancy complications that may have long-term offspring cardiac sequelae are associated with differences in HRV at birth, and whether these HRV differences identify abnormal cardiovascular development in the postnatal period. METHODS: Ninety-eight sleeping neonates had 5-min electrocardiogram recordings at birth. Standard time and frequency domain parameters were calculated and related to cardiovascular measures at birth and 3 months of age. RESULTS: Increasing prematurity, but not maternal hypertension or growth restriction, was associated with decreased HRV at birth, as demonstrated by a lower root mean square of the difference between adjacent NN intervals (rMSSD) and low (LF) and high-frequency power (HF), with decreasing gestational age (p < 0.001, p = 0.009 and p = 0.007, respectively). We also demonstrated a relative imbalance between sympathetic and parasympathetic tone, compared to the term infants. However, differences in autonomic function did not predict cardiovascular measures at either time point. CONCLUSIONS: Altered cardiac autonomic function at birth relates to prematurity rather than other pregnancy complications and does not predict cardiovascular developmental patterns during the first 3 months post birth. Long-term studies will be needed to understand the relevance to cardiovascular risk.

Original publication




Journal article


Pediatr Res

Publication Date





85 - 91