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


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 women to think before 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 a 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.

As seen in Huffington Post

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  1. Such an interesting read. I think for those people who use it for that reason then perhaps it isn’t a good idea. But I know some couples who have bought it just for the father to feel closer to the baby etc so for this reason I think it would be ok. Interesting read.

    Amina xx | #coolmumclub

  2. Using one of these machines freaks me out. I know its lovely to hear the heart beat and great to feel bonded. I’m just nervous I do something wrong, don’t hear anything and start panicking. 🙂 #coolmumclub

    • That’s the problem, they can cause unnecessary anxiety and the opposite end of the scale, false reassurance. I know everybody is different and of course they can be safely used for the purpose of bonding and so other family members can hear the heartbeat. Just not for reassurance when concerned.

  3. Wow this is really interesting…I really had no idea. I just presumed they were accurate. This is a must read for all mums to be thanks so much for sharing this important information with #coolmumclub xoxo

  4. Great article. With my first pregnancy I was tempted to buy a home doppler, but then came to the realisation that it could cause more worry than relief for many of the reasons you have mentioned. I completely agree with the notion that these should ideally be used by people that are trained to use them rather than individuals at home. Thanks for raising this and sharing it on #MarvMondays. Emily


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