Scientists at University of Aberdeen and Witten/Herdenke University in Germany have discovered that the heartbeats of a mother and foetus synchronise. The previously unknown connection, discovered using a new machine called Magnetocardiograph, is expected to pave the way for a new technique to detect development problems during pregnancy.

Magnetocardiograph, which uses a strong magnetic field to record heartbeats, has been used to gather data of the mother and foetus heartbeats in the research.

The findings show that synchronisation between the heartbeats of a mother and foetus only occurs when the mother breathes rhythmically. If the synchronisation does not occur, it signals that something may be wrong with the development of the foetus. This opens up the potential for early medical intervention to be taken whilst the child is still in the womb.

Marco Thiel, physicist at the University of Aberdeen, who worked on the study, said: “Pregnant mothers often report an awareness of a bond with their child, but until now there has been no hard evidence to suggest this bond is reflected in the interaction of their heartbeats.

“Our findings reveal that synchronisation between the heartbeat of a mother and foetus does actually occur – but only when the mother is breathing in a rhythmical fashion. The foetus can sense the rhythmical shift in the mother’s heartbeat and adapts its own heartbeat accordingly.

“Importantly, the phenomenon does not occur when a mother is breathing normally. Although our studies showed that synchronisation between the foetus and mother’s heartbeat might occur under normal conditions, this can be coincidental and not because of an actual physiological connection.”

Dr Romano, researcher from the University of Aberdeen, involved in the project, said: “We used advanced computing techniques in our research making minor alterations to the rhythm of a computer simulated heartbeat to reveal the connection between rhythmical breathing and heartbeat synchronisation.”