If you’ve used a fetal doppler before, you know how rewarding the process can be. A warm feeling washes over your body as you hear the sound of life and with each use, the bonding seems to grow.
As magical as the experience can be, it can also be frustrating or worrisome when you can’t detect a heartbeat.
Did something happen to my baby? Or am I just using it wrong? How do I know the difference?
In this post, we’re answering all those questions and more. Read on to discover the steps you should take if you can’t find the heartbeat using a fetal heartbeat monitor.
No Fetal Heartbeat on Doppler? What to Do in 8 Tips
If you’re having trouble detecting a heartbeat, here’s what you should do.
#1 Wait Until 12 Weeks
A fetal doppler or fetal heartbeat monitor can be used starting around 12 weeks; that’s roughly when your baby is big enough to be detected by at-home devices. However, that timing varies. For example, some women try using a fetal doppler at 8 weeks and can hear the heartbeat. Other times, at 10 weeks only a doctor can detect a heartbeat and it’s still inaudible.
Since it’s possible to detect a heartbeat early, it can be tempting to start using it before 12 weeks. However, that’s not usually recommended. That’s because constantly checking for a heartbeat can give you anxiety you wouldn’t otherwise have. For example, you may worry that you’ve miscarried when in reality, it’s completely normal that you haven’t found a beat at 11 weeks. You could also become easily annoyed and impatient, thinking there’s something wrong with the device.
Since the last thing a pregnant woman needs is stress, if you know you’re an anxious person, put off using the doppler until at least 12 weeks, if not longer.
#2 Wait Until Your Baby Grows Bigger
Although it’s recommended that you begin using a fetal doppler around 12 weeks, some babies aren’t big enough yet to be detected on a home device. The good news is that at this stage, that can be completely normal! The bad news is that there’s nothing you can do but wait until your baby grows.
Even if the baby is big enough for the device to work, it may still be very difficult to detect this early. Constant checking can cause unnecessary anxiety. For that reason, sometimes it’s better to wait a few extra weeks.
You may think, “my doctor used a fetal doppler last week and it worked, so it should work now.” However, there’s reasons why your doctor can detect a heartbeat and you can’t. For one, doctor’s offices are often equipped with higher-end, medical-grade fetal dopplers. Although they may work similar to at-home dopplers during later months, expensive models can better detect activity at the start of pregnancy. In addition to that, doctors also use monitors with 3D and 4D ultrasound equipment, which makes the process more advanced.
And, it should go without saying that doctors have a lot more experience using fetal dopplers, so they’ll have an easier time detecting the heartbeat. In fact, their training compared to your lack of skill is exactly why you shouldn’t use the device to diagnose your own issues or replace appointments.
When you’re used to hearing your baby and you suddenly can’t, it’s easy to freak out, assuming the worst. But even if you and your doctor have previously detected a heartbeat, it can be completely normal to have trouble finding it. There’s several explanations that don’t involve your baby’s health:
- Your baby may have switched to a position where it’s difficult to hear a heartbeat
- You may have an empty bladder (many women find it easier to detect on a full bladder)
- You may be positioned incorrectly. You should be laying back in a reclined position, which props up your uterus (ex. don’t try to use it standing up)
- You may be using the doppler incorrectly (even if you’ve used it correctly before)
- You may be using too much gel. Yes, be generous with the gel. But too much can create air bubbles that increase static.
Unless the absence of a heartbeat is accompanied by the loss of baby activity, don’t jump to conclusions. If you’re worried and you can’t find a beat later or in the next few days, you can contact your doctor to assess the possible issue.
#4 Try Again Later
As we said above, often times a heartbeat can’t be detected because your baby has moved into a position that makes it difficult. For example, you may have easily heard it before when she was in an optimal position. But babies move a lot. One explanation could be that a body part, such as the head, is blocking the angle of the probe.
Another thing to consider is that babies often curl up in the womb, pulling their knees toward their chest. This can make it difficult to hear the heartbeat since the knees are blocking the heart area.
Instead of constantly trying and becoming impatient or worried, try again later. When your baby moves into a better position, you should be able to hear it easier.
#5 Try Our Top Fetal Doppler Tips
As long as your baby is big enough and in the correct position, most mothers don’t have trouble picking up a heartbeat. However, if you do, there’s some extra tips you can use to bring your fetal doppler skills up to par:
- Use on a full bladder, pushing your uterus out of your pelvic cavity, making the sound easier to detect and clearer
- Use a 2MHz probe if you’re overweight. It can be more difficult for an overweight mother to detect a heartbeat. If you’re constantly having issues, this may be the culprit.
- Study the sounds to make sure you’re not misidentifying the heartbeat for something else. (Visit our video page!)
- Clean after every use. Build-up can create static, making it difficult to detect and hear the baby.
- Read: 10 Must-Know Secret Tips for Finding Fetal Heartbeat with Doppler
If you don’t think anything is wrong health-wise but you’ve tried these tips without success, bring it up at your next check-up. Ask your doctor if they can show you how to use it correctly.
#6 Call Your Healthcare Provider
In some cases, a mom may not detect a heartbeat and have a feeling that something is wrong. While anxiety can be mistaken as “mother’s intuition,” it’s always better to be safe than sorry. You can call your doctor or midwife, who will likely ask about other symptoms. They’ll likely either reassure you, tell you to come in or tell you to monitor for problems.
#7 Send a Sound Clip of Abnormalities
In some cases, a mom may detect a heartbeat, but it sounds a lot different than normal. For example, it may sound a lot quicker or slower than usual. The first step is to make sure that it’s actually your baby’s heartbeat and not your heartbeat or another noise. Here’s a few quick tips for that:
- Your heartbeat is about 60-80 beats per minute (bpm) whereas your babys should be around 120-180, depending on where you’re at in your pregnancy journey.
- A fading heartbeat isn’t necessarily an irregularity, often it means your baby is changing positions.
- Don’t mistake the baby’s heartbeat for the sound of placenta or movement, which often is a “whoosh” noise, similar to that of blowing trees.
- Listen to the video clip on this pageto see the difference between a regular and irregular fetal heartbeat.
If you think you’ve detected your baby’s heartbeat and it’s irregular, you can record it and send it to your midwife or doctor to analyze. On Baby Doppler’s models, simply plug a recorder into the jack and hit record when you detect the heartbeat. From there, you can email the file or show it to your healthcare provider at your next appointment. He or she should be able to tell you whether you’ve correctly identified the heartbeat and whether it’s a true abnormality.
Even if you’re confident it’s an abnormality, try not to panic! Many times, doctors are able to find the reason for it and suggest a simple lifestyle change correction.
#8 Seek Emergency Care (Under Specific Circumstances)
Many times, you can’t detect a fetal heartbeat because your baby has moved and you’ll be able to detect it again later. However, an absent heartbeat is more worrisome if you have a high-risk pregnancy or are experiencing complications.
In some cases, your healthcare provider may have advised you to purchase a fetal doppler for home use between appointments. Many times, the woman will call her midwife or doctor first to alert her of the abnormality.
In other cases, the woman may notice a lack of baby activity with no heartbeat. Or, she may be experiencing miscarriage symptoms as well. In these cases, you should seek emergency care.
Summary: What Do I Do If I Can’t Find the Heartbeat?
If you can’t find a heartbeat, first ensure you’re at least 12 weeks along. Even after this point, the baby may not be big enough yet. If the absence of a heartbeat is accompanied by a loss of baby activity or miscarriage symptoms, seek emergency care right away. However, in most cases, not detecting your baby is caused by her switching positions, incorrect use of the device, or other non-health-related factors. If you think something is wrong, call your healthcare provider to be safe.
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