BackgroundFetal growth restriction (FGR) is associated with increased perinatal mortality and long-term cardiovascular and neurodevelopmental sequelae. We hypothesized that FGR impacts on the development of autonomic heart rate and blood pressure control, contributing to unfavorable short- and long-term outcomes following FGR.MethodsWe studied 25 preterm FGR and 22 preterm and 19 term appropriate for gestational age (AGA) infants. Preterm neonates were studied on postnatal day 1, and all infants were studied at 1 and 6 months post-term age. To investigate autonomic cardiovascular control, we examined heart rate variability (HRV) and baroreflex sensitivity using spectral power and transfer-function analyses.ResultsPreterm FGR neonates exhibited higher heart rates and reduced HRV compared with preterm AGA controls on postnatal day 1. No significant differences were found between the three groups at 1 or 6 months post-term age.ConclusionPreterm FGR neonates display compromised HRV on postnatal day 1, which may suggest increased vulnerability to circulatory instability. This may predispose these neonates to systemic and cerebral hypoperfusion and increase the risk of long-term neurodevelopmental sequelae. Differences were no longer found at 1 and 6 months post-term age, suggesting that the maturation of autonomic cardiovascular control may be preserved following FGR.