The objective of this study was to evaluate whether Braxton-Hicks contractions induce changes in fetal heart rate variation in normal and growth-retarded fetuses. 110 uncomplicated singleton pregnancies were cross-sectionally studied as well as 16 pregnancies complicated by fetal growth retardation secondary to uteroplacental insufficiency. Fetal heart rate variability was analyzed by a commercially available computerized system (2CTG Hewlett Packard, Italy) 10 min before and 10 min after the Braxton-Hicks contraction. All the included fetal heart rate tracings fulfilled the following criteria: (1) presence of a single Braxton-Hicks contraction in the 20 min considered; (2) absence of fetal heart rate decelerations after the contraction, and (3) stable fetal heart rate behavioral pattern in the period analyzed. 82 tracings of normal fetuses were analyzed during an active fetal heart rate pattern (type B) and the remaining 28 during a quiet pattern (type A). In both patterns no significant differences in delta value, long-term irregularity, short-term variability and interval index were found before and after the contraction. All the tracings of growth-retarded fetuses were analyzed during the fetal heart rate pattern A. Short-term variation and interval index significantly decreased during the first 5 min after the contraction while no significant differences were found in the other indices investigated. The decrease in these indices was significantly more marked in those fetuses developing fetal distress within 7 days. In conclusion, Braxton-Hicks contractions induce a significant decrease of short-term variation and interval index only in growth-retarded fetuses. This can be useful in the early identification of fetal compromise in such fetuses.

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