The earliest relationship does not begin with birth. Pregnant women construct mental representations of the fetus, and the feelings of affiliation or 'maternal-fetal attachment' generally increase over the course of gestation. While there is a fairly substantial literature on the development and moderation of psychological features of the maternal-fetal relationship, including the role of ultrasound imaging, relatively little is known about the manner in which maternal psychological functioning influences the fetus. Dispositional levels of maternal stress and anxiety are modestly associated with aspects of fetal heart rate and motor activity. Both induced maternal arousal and relaxation generate fairly immediate alterations to fetal neurobehaviors; the most consistently observed fetal response to changes in maternal psychological state involves suppression of motor activity. These effects may be mediated, in part, by an orienting response of the fetus to changes in the intrauterine environment. Conversely, there is evidence that fetal behaviors elicit maternal physiological responses. Integration of this finding into a more dynamic model of the maternal-fetal dyad, and implications for the postnatal relationship are discussed. Research on the period before birth affords tremendous opportunity for developmental scientists to advance understanding of the origins of the human attachment.
- Maternal-fetal relationship
- Psychological and physiological considerations
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Developmental and Educational Psychology