Should pregnancy home doppler devices be available for over the counter sale?
To Ban or not to ban?
The current campaign by leading baby charity ‘Kicks Count’ has sparked debate. The charity has called for a ban on over the counter sales of hand held dopplers. Personally and professionally I can see both sides of the argument but here I’ll tell you why I’m supporting them.
So first, 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 hand held dopplers cannot interpret the readings for you in the same way a HCP would. There are also apps on phones that allow you to listen too. On the surface this may seem like a lovely idea, provide some reassurance at home and allow partners to hear your unborn baby’s heart beating. Some say it helps with the bonding process too.
But are they really suitable for home use by someone who isn’t trained to use them?
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. Our concern is that a mum worried about her baby’s movements may listen to her baby’s heartbeat at home and be reassured by the presence of a heartbeat. Thus, not going into hospital for a review which may have detected a distressed baby prompting imminent delivery and saving a life.
Midwives and doctors train to use these devices. Listening to a baby’s heartbeat needs to be understood along with the physiology of pregnancy and the anatomy of the heart. Training includes being able to listen to the pattern and rate of the heartbeat and interpret those sounds in order to determine the wellbeing of the baby.
Now I know that for some, these devices and apps provide comforting 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.
So what is the answer?
Ban the over counter sale of them or increase education on the sensible use of home dopplers. Education is a valid choice but this in itself poses problems. How long will such education take to reach all pregnant mums and how many times will a mother be falsely reassured whilst a programme of education is developed and rolled out? When should it be discussed? Despite education will people still use them for reassurance when worried? Of course there are plenty of sensible women out there that would use one purely for bonding and would go for monitoring if concerned. Is it right to take away that choice? But there are those that will still use one for reassurance. Maybe a fear of hospitals will lead them to using a home doppler. Maybe they don’t want to ‘bother’ maternity staff or convince themselves that they are worrying over nothing.
Educational messages take time, we are still trying to dispel myths regarding fetal movements towards the end of pregnancy. There are 6500 stillbirths and neonatal deaths every year in the UK and we must do what we can to get this number down. Education may sound like the best option but it takes time to get these important messages out there and save lives.
Banning them for over the counter sale may sound drastic and taking away choice but it may save the lives of many unborn babies sooner. It is after all a medical device.
Please, 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.
What are your thoughts? Should they be banned for over the counter sale? If you support the campaign please read what Elizabeth Hutton, CEO of Kicks Count has to say and sign the petition. Visit Kicks Counts here.