How To Use Fetal Dopplers: Using a Baby Doppler

Listen to Your Baby’s Heartbeat, Kicks and Hiccups with a Fetal Heart Doppler

Fetal doppler and stethoscope

There is no better sound than the sound of your baby's heartbeat from the womb. Purchasing or renting a fetal Doppler can be a great way for you and your family (especially soon-to-be siblings) to bond with your baby. Using this baby heartbeat monitor will allow other family members to share in the excitement of your pregnancy.

There are many sounds that can be heard with a fetal Doppler including kicks, hiccups and, of course, your baby's heartbeat. A fetal heartbeat can be heard with a fetal Doppler as early as 8-10 weeks. Follow the tips below to learn how to use a fetal Doppler.

  1. Always start with a full bladder, especially in the early weeks (weeks 8-14). This will help to bring your uterus up out of your pelvic cavity.
  2. Place a small (quarter-sized) amount of gel on your abdomen. Start in the middle at the pubic bone if you are in the first trimester, and up by your belly button if you are more than 20 weeks along.
  3. Place the probe directly on top of the gel and turn the unit on.
  4. Move the probe in a VERY SLOW circular motion moving side to side across your abdomen.
  5. If your fetal Doppler has an LCD heart-rate readout, do not try to read the display until you can hear your baby's heartbeat. Your heart beats at about 60-80 beats per minute, the fetus has a heart-rate between 120-180.
  6. Not hearing the heartbeat before 12-14 weeks is not a sign that anything is wrong with your baby or your pregnancy. Hearing it as early as 10 weeks isn't always possible and when a fetal heartbeat can be heard will depend largely on a number of factors including:
    • Type of Doppler machine being used: Be surehow to use a doppler that your Doppler is in fact a 'fetal Doppler' and not a prenatal listener. Some of the products available do not utilize the same technology as a fetal Doppler and cannot detect a fetal heartbeat until after 30 weeks. Also, the different types of fetal Dopplers vary with regards to sensitivity and durability.
    • The size and shape of the mother: Taller women and women who are overweight may have a more difficult time hearing the heartbeat in the early weeks. However, by 12-14 weeks, a Doppler should be able to pick up a heartbeat in women of all shapes and sizes.
    • Inaccurate due date: Sometimes it is difficult to determine a due date. If your due date is off by a week or more, you may be expecting to hear the heartbeat earlier than would be possible.
    • Misinformation: A fetal heart will begin to beat at around 5-6 weeks' gestation. Although an ultrasound machine will be able to detect this by about 6 weeks, a fetal Doppler cannot detect a heartbeat until closer to 8-10 weeks, or even later. An ultrasound machine uses very powerful probes (5-10 Mhz) at a much higher output level (up to 720 Mw/cm2) whereas a fetal Doppler only uses a 2-3 Mhz probe at a much lower level of less than 20 mw/cm2. For this reason, fetal Dopplers are unable to detect a heartbeat before 8 weeks and usually not before 10-12 weeks. Don't be misled: if someone says she heard her baby's heartbeat at 6 weeks, she is probably referring to an ultrasound scan.

Fetal Dopplers have been safely used for over 50 years and there are no known risks to the mother or fetus. That said, please be sure that the fetal Doppler you choose is FDA-approved and always talk to your healthcare provider about any questions or concerns regarding the use of these machines.

Michelle Wright owns and operates two companies--Tummy Tickles and Sonotrax--which rent and sell fetal dopplers.

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