If you’re just learning about what a fetal doppler is, you may be wondering if you can use it to detect whether something is wrong with your baby. Are the devices just meant for fun or can they be used for a medical purpose at home?
In this post, we’ll outline when fetal dopplers can detect abnormalities and the precautions you should take if you’re worried.
What are Fetal Dopplers?
Fetal dopplers are handheld devices that you can use at home to hear your baby’s heartbeat through a speaker or headphones. They use technology similar to an ultrasound to pick up and amplify a baby’s heartbeat while she’s inside the womb. After 12 weeks, a mother simply spreads ultrasound gel over her lower belly and glides a probe across until she detects a heart rate.
Fetal dopplers are used by medical professionals to help assess a baby’s health. The devices are now affordable to use at home, but still don’t replace doctor’s visits or intervention. Many mothers-to-be love using a fetal doppler because they:
- Provide reassurance. Many pregnant women experience worry about whether their baby is okay between visits. This concern may be amplified for first-time mothers or those who have experienced complications before. Learning how to properly detect a heart rate using a fetal doppler can be reassuring.
- Create Bonding. Since your baby doesn’t have contact with the outside world yet, it’s difficult for the father or rest of the family to bond. One way to connect is by listening to the heartbeat. It can also be a great way to gently introduce a child to their new sibling.
- Are Easy to Use. Although they appear to be somewhat complex, fetal dopplers are easy to use. With that being said, you’ll want to know how to make sure you’re detecting the actual heartbeat and not another sound. This takes practice, but listening to videos of fetal heartbeats can help you recognize the sound.
Can Fetal Dopplers Detect Problems?
Although fetal dopplers can detect abnormalities, let’s leave that job to your doctor who will examine you and your child in the womb thoroughly when you go on your regular visits. Meanwhile, you can continue using the Fetal Doppler to listen to the reassuring sound of the ticking of the tiny baby’s heart residing in your womb. Even if you’re certain it’s an abnormality, a doctor will need to diagnose and treat the issue.
A fetal doppler may signal an issue if your doctor:
- Detects a fetal heart rate (FHR) outside of the expected range on the display screen (a normal fetal heart ratetypically ranges from 120 to 160 bpm, but changes throughout pregnancy and can vary).
- Hears missed heartbeats or a slower heart rate than usual
- See abnormalities in digital heart rate curve
- Can’t find heartbeat (although this could be for other reasons, such as the baby being too small or in a position that makes hearing the heartbeat more difficult).
- Detects an abnormality in conjunction with other signs, symptoms or test results
If your healthcare provider detects an abnormality, they can then use the appropriate intervention. Baby Doppler’s founder, Maria Gorobets, called her midwife during her second pregnancy because she suspected something was wrong. Her midwife used a fetal doppler and detected an irregularity. As a result, she found out she had to be induced immediately.
While fetal dopplers can detect abnormalities, only a health practitioner is trained to know what action is appropriate.
Help! I Think My Fetal Doppler is Detecting a Problem
If you think you hear an abnormality in your baby’s heartbeat, here’s what you should do.
#1 Try to Keep Calm and Remember You’re Not a Professional
Even if you think you’re sure you’re detecting an abnormality, remember that you’ve (probably) never been formally trained to detect and interpret fetal heartbeats. If the display shows a heart rate out of the normal range, consider the possibility where you’ve detected the heartbeat or some other sound, such as your own heartbeat or the placenta.
If you can’t hear your baby’s heartbeat, you may immediately assume something is wrong. But there could be other reasons, such as:
- It takes practice to learn how to properly find your baby’s heartbeat. Some women describe the sound as similar to galloping horses. See other tips for properly using a fetal doppler here.
- Too early.You may start detecting a heartbeat around 12 weeks; however, some women hear it weeks earlier or later. In general, the bigger your baby gets, the easier it will be to hear its heartbeat. If you can’t hear it and your doctor says everything is fine, you can relax because it may just be too early yet.
- Different position. Even if you’ve heard your baby’s heartbeat before, it’s possible she’s moved into a position that makes it more difficult to access and detect. If this is the case, you’ll need to try again after the baby has moved.
- Weight of mother. If a mother is overweight, it may take longer and be more difficult to detect a heartbeat. Using a fetal Doppler with a 3MHz probe may work best in such cases.
#2 Contact Your Doctor
If you’re not sure if you’re detecting an issue, you can call your doctor, midwife or a pregnancy hotline. Since the health professional can’t physically assess you over the phone, their advice may be limited. However, they should be able to tell you whether you should make a trip to the doctor or the emergency department. If you have a recording of the heartbeat, you may wish to play it over the phone for your doctor.
If you are experiencing other symptoms along with a possible heartbeat irregularity, it’s probably best to go to the emergency department or get an appointment with your doctor ASAP, depending on the severity. While it could be nothing, there’s no way to know until a doctor examines you.
#3 Record Heartbeats
If you notice some changes or skips in your baby’s heartbeat every now and then, you may wish to record it so you can play it back to your healthcare provider. If the issue doesn’t occur during an assessment, your doctor may have a harder time diagnosing any possible issues. In this case, hearing a recording of what you’re concerned about may help. For example, your doctor may tell you that you’ve mistaken the heartbeat for a different sound and your baby is just fine.
If your fetal Doppler has an audio output, you can attach a sound recorder and hit record whenever you’re using the fetal Doppler to listen to your baby’s heartbeat.
Fetal Doppler Precautions
Although only trained professionals can detect irregularities with certainty, you should still use your fetal heartbeat monitor in the correct way. Please consider the following:
It Does Not Replace Doctor’s Visits
Even if your baby sounds healthy every time you use the doppler, you cannot skip medical visits. Your health practitioner can check for other issues you wouldn’t be able (or shouldn’t) to self-diagnose. In addition, if you’re misinterpreting the heartbeat and there’s actually an issue, that can also be detected during an examination.
It Cannot Diagnose or Treat Problems
Fetal heartbeat monitors can be used at home for bonding or for reassurance. Even if you’re certain your baby’s heartbeat is abnormal, it can’t tell you what is causing that problem or how to treat it. In a medical setting, a doctor may use a fetal heartbeat monitor to make sure your baby is healthy or to help diagnose a problem. However, unless you’re a trained professional, you shouldn’t expect a fetal doppler to replace your doctor’s diagnosis.
Watch for Other Signs of Health
One common worry is that a woman hears her baby’s heartbeat and assumes she’s healthy when in reality something is wrong, causing a false reassurance. This is why it’s important to also watch out for other signs that something may be wrong:
- Inactive/slower fetus movement
- Cramping or intense pain
- Extreme back pain
Fetal dopplers can be used by medical professionals to detect abnormalities. However, the average mother is happy to use fetal doppler to hear the reassuring sound of her baby. Whenever in doubt, consult your doctor, who is the best judge… Contact your healthcare provider if you suspect something is wrong. Never miss an appointment with your doctor.
Have you heard your baby’s heartbeat yet? If you have, comment below your experience! Be sure to share this post with any pregnant friends, too!