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Every mother looks forward to visiting the doctor so she can hear her baby’s heartbeat and be assured that everything is well. Doctors use a doppler to measure the heartbeat of the baby, and some people like to use at-home versions to monitor baby’s heartbeat at home. While hearing your baby’s heartbeat on a daily basis sounds exciting, the FDA does not recommend fetal dopplers for at-home use. Read on to learn more about at-home dopplers and whether you should use one.

What is a Fetal Doppler?

A fetal doppler is a handheld heart monitor that allows doctors to listen to or record a baby’s heartbeat while it is still in the womb. A doppler sends acoustic radiation waves into the womb and measures how the pitch changes when it comes back. How the pitch changes can give the doctor information about what’s going on with the baby.

Can I Buy a Fetal Doppler?

Some devices that are called fetal dopplers can be found online or on Amazon, but it’s illegal to sell doppler in the U.S. to anyone who is not a licensed medical professional. The FDA has warned parents since 2014 not to use fetal heart monitors at home. They are concerned that people who use the devices without supervision can overuse them and cause harm to the fetus.

Some companies require a prescription when you attempt to purchase a fetal heart monitor, while some skirt the law and just ask for a pledge that you’ve consulted your doctor, and some don’t even ask. It’s best to steer clear of those companies and only purchase a doppler if your doctor recommends it.

Fetal Sound Amplifiers

Sometimes you can find what’s called a “fetal sound amplifier” online. These are devices with a powerful microphone that you can place against your stomach to listen in on baby. It’s far safer, as no signals are going into your body.

Fetal sound amplifiers are tricky, though, and they tend to be staticky and fuzzy. It can be hard to distinguish between the sounds of your body and the sounds of your baby’s body.

Use caution when purchasing a sound amplifier, though, as some companies simply rebrand fetal dopplers. Since it’s illegal to sell dopplers, some sellers on Amazon have simply renamed dopplers as fetal sound amplifiers. Buying one of those and using it at home can be harmful to your baby.

Fetal Doppler Risks

While the risks of fetal dopplers are still not clear, especially the long-term risks, there are a few things that you should be aware of.

Radiation

It’s a well-known fact that overexposure to radiation can cause cancer. People who spend too much time around radioactive materials (which can include x-rays, televisions, and more) are in danger of getting cancer.

Fetal dopplers use radiation as well, though it uses low exposure for only a short time. Getting your baby’s heartbeat checked at the doctor’s office will very likely not cause any damage to your baby, but there are concerns about home dopplers. Since they are not medical grade, there is no control of how reliable the frequency and amplitude of the radiation waves are.

Radiation can cause thermal damage by heating the tissues of the baby’s body or brain above normal, thus causing damage, or non-thermal damage by causing mechanical strain on the tissues.

Incorrect Use

Incorrect use of a fetal doppler can cause you to panic.  If you can’t find your baby’s heartbeat, or if the speed seems incorrect, it can be alarming. Plus, it’s easy to pick up on things that are not even a heartbeat, like stomach rumblings! Doctors know how to accurately identify the heartbeat, so it’s best to leave it to them and save yourself the stress.

Missing Problems

If you use a fetal doppler at home it can be easy to hear baby’s heartbeat and think everything is okay since you’re not trained in how it’s supposed to sound. Some moms have odd symptoms, but because they listen to baby’s heartbeat and think everything’s fine, they neglect to call their doctor. That’s one way to lose your baby.

What Can I Do Instead?

If you aren’t willing to take the risk of using a home fetal doppler, there are other ways to keep track of how your baby’s doing. The bonus is that they’re completely free!

Early in your pregnancy you can keep track of how your baby’s doing by listening to your own body. If you’re feeling healthy and have no vaginal bleeding it’s highly likely that you and baby are doing fine.

Once baby starts to kick, count those kicks to keep tabs on baby. If you’re worried that your baby isn’t moving, take some time to lie down and rest. Once you’re lying down you’ll better be able to feel your baby kick. Count how many times they kick within an hour: 10 times or more means baby’s doing fine!

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