Devices for listening to your baby's heartbeat at home: False reassurance

10/01/2017 16:31 GMT | Updated 10/01/2017 16:32 GMT

What you should know about home dopplers and phone apps for listening to your baby's heartbeat.

So what is a home doppler for pregnancy? It's a small hand held device that allows you to hear your baby's heartbeat whilst at home. It works in the same way as the hand held dopplers the Health Care Professionals (HCP's) use. However home dopplers are usually poorer quality than the professional ones unless you shell out the money. There are also apps on phones that allow you to listen too. Great, you may think. This is something that will provide some reassurance at home and of course it is lovely to hear your unborn baby's heart beating. Some say it helps with the bonding process.

But are they really suitable for home use by someone who isn't trained to use them?

I urge all pregnant to think before you making a purchase. Midwives and doctors are trained to use these devices. For a health professional, listening to a baby's heartbeat needs to be understood along with the physiology of pregnancy.

Firstly, locating the heartbeat requires skill and it needs to be distinguished from other sounds picked up by the device. The sound made by the placenta can sometimes sound like a heartbeat.

Secondly and most importantly, the mere presence of a heartbeat does not always mean the baby is ok. Sadly no heartbeat is too late. Midwives and doctors are trained to listen to the pattern and rate of the heartbeat. It's like being able to read music. If you've learned how to interpret the notes you can hear the melody. If you haven't learned to read music, they're just notes on a page. You can see the notes but you don't know how to interpret them. Midwives know what the heartbeat pattern of a healthy happy baby sounds like and they also know what the heartbeat pattern of a distressed baby sounds like too.

Now I know that for some, these devices and apps provide valuable reassurance through an anxious pregnancy. I also completely understand that it is lovely to hear your baby's heartbeat. But these devices and apps may provide a false reassurance. As a midwife my advice is to gain the best reassurance of a happy healthy baby by attending antenatal appointments and monitoring your baby's movements.

Fairly recently The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) removed listening to the baby's heartbeat as routine antenatal assessment when fetal movements are reported as being normal. The reason stated is that listening to the fetal heart may confirm that the baby is alive but is unlikely to have any predictive value. This may make it tempting to purchase a home doppler to listen to that amazing sound at home with loved ones. Although it may not be routine anymore you can however ask your midwife to listen in at your appointment.

The message I want you to take is this - If you do buy one of these devices or apps then please, please do not use it as a substitute for contacting a health professional when you are concerned. If you are worried about a change in your baby's movements, call your maternity unit straight away. Remember a baby's movements do not slow down towards the end of pregnancy. You are not a bother. Let the HCP's reassure you, not a device or app you use at home.

Taken from TalkingMums.com