Near-term fetal response to maternal spoken voice

Kristin M. Voegtline, Kathleen A. Costigan, Heather A. Pater, Janet A. DiPietro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Knowledge about prenatal learning has been largely predicated on the observation that newborns appear to recognize the maternal voice. Few studies have examined the process underlying this phenomenon; that is, whether and how the fetus responds to maternal voice in situ. Fetal heart rate and motor activity were recorded at 36 weeks gestation (n=69) while pregnant women read aloud from a neutral passage. Compared to a baseline period, fetuses responded with a decrease in motor activity in the 10. s following onset of maternal speech and a trend level decelerative heart rate response, consistent with an orienting response. Subsequent analyses revealed that the fetal response was modified by both maternal and fetal factors. Fetuses of women who were previously awake and talking (n=40) showed an orienting response to onset of maternal reading aloud, while fetuses of mothers who had previously been resting and silent (n=29) responded with elevated heart rate and increased movement. The magnitude of the fetal response was further dependent on baseline fetal heart rate variability such that largest response was demonstrated by fetuses with low variability of mothers who were previously resting and silent. Results indicate that fetal responsivity is affected by both maternal and fetal state and have implications for understanding fetal learning of the maternal voice under naturalistic conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)526-533
Number of pages8
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2013


  • Auditory perception
  • Fetal heart rate
  • Fetal movement
  • Maternal voice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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