How Safe Is a Home Doppler Fetal Monitor?

Doppler Fetal Monitor

Sometimes you just need some reassurance

The first few months of pregnancy can be an unsettling and anxious time, particularly if you have experienced miscarriages in the past. Once the baby gets big enough for you to feel him or her kicking or moving, many women feel a lot more relaxed. But, how about those months beforehand, when the baby is too small for you to feel any movement?

Doppler fetal monitors for home use have become increasingly popular in the last few years and are used by many pregnant women for reassurance during their pregnancy.

Although your baby’s heart forms very early on, the earliest you will be able to hear your baby’s heartbeat with a home Doppler fetal monitor is around 10–12 weeks.

Are home Doppler fetal monitors safe?

The Doppler fetal monitor probe sends out high-frequency sound waves that pass through your body and into your baby. When the sound waves encounter movement, such as your baby’s beating heart, they bounce back to the monitor. The fetal Doppler monitor then translates the movement into amplified sound so you are able to hear it.

Studies so far have not shown that ultrasound is harmful to the developing baby inside the womb but experts recommend that ultrasounds be used sparingly as it is impossible to rule out no risk whatsoever.

Additionally, in later pregnancy, counting your baby’s kicks is a much more reliable way to whether or not your baby is alive and thriving. In a case study published in the British Medical Journal, a woman who was 38 weeks pregnant noticed that her baby was moving less than usual but she detected what she thought was her baby’s heartbeat on a home Doppler fetal monitor and was reassured that everything was fine. A few days later an emergency ultrasound was performed, due to the woman subsequently hearing no heartbeat with the home Doppler fetal monitor. Unfortunately, no heartbeat was found during the emergency ultrasound and the baby had died. The doctors thought that she actually detected her own heartbeat during the period where she was experiencing fewer kicks from the baby. If she had gone to see the doctor when the baby’s kicks were decreasing, the outcome might have been a lot better.

This is one of the main pitfalls of using a home Doppler fetal monitor – parents can easily misinterpret the sounds that they hear as there are a lot of other sounds going on inside your body and it can be hard to pinpoint the baby’s heartbeat.

Another pitfall of home Doppler fetal monitors

As well as mistaking your own body’s sounds for those of your baby’s, you can also stress yourself out unnecessarily if you don’t hear the heartbeat. But if you can’t hear it, it doesn’t mean your baby’s heart has stopped – he or she may just be in a strange position where the heartbeat will be difficult to hear or perhaps you aren’t aiming the probe in the right direction.

So, should you still buy one?

If you feel that you will be overly anxious and stressed in the time period after 10–12 weeks and prior to being able to feel your baby’s first kicks, it might be worth getting home Doppler fetal monitor. But use it as sparingly as possible. If you do buy one, make sure it conforms to FDA standards and pay close attention to the instructions for use and guidance on what to hear.

And finally, let your midwife and/or doctor know that you are thinking about purchasing one.

Melody Watson
Melody Watson holds Bachelors degrees in Biochemistry and Microbiology. She works as a medical writer for a medical communications agency in Berlin, Germany, where her work ranges from medical translation to writing publications for medical journals. Melody is passionate about promoting science, including evidence-based medicine, and debunking pseudoscience.

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