One of the most exciting parts of pregnancy is the opportunity to hear the heartbeat of your baby. The first time you hear the heartbeat of your baby will probably be at your prenatal appointments. At these visits, your provider will most likely use a handheld Doppler device to listen to your baby’s heartbeat. According to a study, the average fetal heart rate is 120-160 beats per minute. This rate will change throughout pregnancy, and your provider can use it to calculate gestational age as well as gauge the wellbeing of your baby.
A fetal Doppler device uses ultrasound to map the uterus and playback representations of the fetal heart rate. Your baby’s heart will start beating around 5 or 6 weeks gestation, and it can sometimes be heard as early as 8 weeks (with ultrasound). Typically, though, it’s not strong enough to be heard with the handheld Doppler until 12 weeks gestation. Doppler devices can be rented or purchased for home use, but this is not recommended for a number of reasons, including the potential dangers of prolonged ultrasound use. There is some controversy about whether ultrasound use is completely safe in pregnancy. The amount of ultrasound that healthcare providers use with occasional monitoring is thought to be safe; however, using a Doppler at home can lead to excessive fetal exposure to ultrasound waves with no definitive guidelines for how prolonged and repeated exposure can impact growing tissues.
Luckily there are other ways to listen to your baby’s heartbeat at home, without the use of ultrasound waves.
Below some ways to listen SAFELY to the heartbeat of baby at home.
- A standardstethoscope can amplify the baby’s heartbeat around weeks 18 to 20 of pregnancy. Quality matters – the better the craftsmanship, the more likely you are to hear your baby’s heartbeat.
- APinard Horn, traditionally made of wood, has one end that is placed against mom’s belly and the other against the listener’s ear. The fetal heartbeat can be detected around 18 to 20 weeks of pregnancy. While mom can’t do this herself, her partner may be able to use it to hear the baby’s heartbeat.
- Afetoscope is a specialized stethoscope that takes advantage of the concept behind the Pinard Horn and combines it with a stethoscope. While it looks much like a stethoscope, it has a piece that fits against the user’s forehead to conduct the sound for increased sensitivity to subtle sounds. Some practitioners describe the sound of baby’s heartbeat with this device as a ‘wristwatch under a pillow.’ Accurately using the fetoscope takes some practice, and even an experienced healthcare provider may not be able to hear the baby’s heartbeat with it until 18 to 20 weeks.
No matter the method used, healthcare providers have the training and experience to easily locate and interpret your baby’s heartbeat. You may not be able to find the heartbeat with the same ease at home. Factors that can impact whether or not you will be able to hear your baby’s heartbeat include:
- The baby’s position:The heartbeat will be more difficult to locate if your baby’s back is toward your back. Ask your provider for tips on determining how your baby is positioned.
- The amount of amniotic fluid:Too much or too little fluid can impact the quality of sound.
- The location of the placenta:If your placenta is located at the front of the uterus, you may be picking up your own heartbeat rather than your baby’s.
- The point in gestation:The farther along in pregnancy, the more likely you will be to find your baby’s heartbeat.
- The mother’s weight:If a pregna nt mother is overweight, the device may not be sensitive enough to pick up the fetal heartbeat through thicker tissue.
Use caution when monitoring your baby’s heartbeat at home. If you have trouble finding the heartbeat, or if you misinterpret other noises for a heartbeat and think something is wrong, you can add undue stress to your pregnancy. Also, don’t be complacent if other bodily signals tell you something’s not right – even if your baby’s heartbeat seems alright. Tune in to your body, and listen to your intuition.
If you find hearing your baby’s heartbeat reassuring, or want to share the experience with your partner, you may benefit from listening at home. Consider taking your device to a prenatal appointment, and ask your provider to teach you the best way to use it.
Have you used a stethoscope or Doppler at home?
Written by Michelle: writer, editor, Lamaze instructor, lactation consultant, and mother to 4 busy kids.
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a trained medical doctor. Health & Parenting Ltd disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information, which is provided to you on a general information basis only and not as a substitute for personalized medical advice. All contents copyright © Health & Parenting Ltd 2017. All rights reserved.