Should I get a Doppler to check my baby's heart rate at home?


So many people have strong feelings about this... *eye roll*


But I am a mother. And a doctor. And I don't judge.

I just want you to be well-informed and realistic about this.



What is a Doppler?


It is a hand held machine that uses ultrasonic waves to pick up movement of the heart beat.


Why is it called Doppler?

It is named after the physicist who invented it named Christian Doppler. In medicine, when something is named after someone, it starts with a capital letter (like Crohn disease).


Is it safe?

Ultrasound is generally safe in pregnancy and it has no radiation.


Overuse of ultrasound can generate heat in the fetal tissue which can potentially be damaging. In clinical practice, this limit is not exceeded, even if you have a high risk pregnancy and need ultrasounds multiple times a week.


However, in the hands of an untrained person who is doing an unindicated ultrasound for an hour to get you a keepsake video - I can't speak to that, and I am not ok with it.


I can't tell you what to do (I guess I can, but I can't guarantee you will listen), so I will, as always, give you evidence-based medicine and let you make up your own mind about it.


Home Dopplers (AKA, home fetal heart-rate monitor)


The bad

Doppler machines are not FDA approved for home use. In fact, the FDA is clearly against this in their article Avoid Fetal "Keepsake" Images, Heartbeat Monitors. The FDA warns that Doppers "should only be used by, or under the supervision of, a health care professional."


The baby's heart rate alone does not tell us how baby is doing. Studies show that there is no benefit from having a home Doppler monitor and you will not have better outcomes.


The ugly

  • You probably don't know how to use it. #SorryNotSorry. Even if you're a doctor/nurse/smart person. Unless you practice obstetrics, and even when you practice obstetrics, it is not easy.

  • An expert cannot find the fetal heart rate with a Doppler until at least 12 weeks. And even then, unless you are very thin, it is still difficult until 14-16 weeks.

  • Hard to use >> can't find the heat rate >> stress and anxiety >> unnecessary trips to the hospital >> exposure to COVID >> get very sick (ok the last 2 were uncalled for, but for real, going to the hospital exposes you to all sorts of icky germs)

  • Even if you find a heart beat, you probably don't know how to interpret it. The heart rate can be normal, low or high, and all of these can be normal or abnormal. To the untrained ear, while you can probably tell if the heart rate is within the normal range, you will not be able to differentiate normal from abnormal heart rhythm.

  • Even if there is an abnormal heart beat, depending on the type of abnormality and the gestational age, chances are no intervention is necessary

The good

Some studies show that for low risk pregnancies, home self-monitoring tools, such as a blood pressure cuff and a home Doppler, can provide women with confidence and joy in the process of their pregnancies, do much less hospital/clinic visits, and save healthcare dollars. However, these low risk women were taught by healthcare professionals how to detect heart correctly and effectively in a very streamlined approach.


Bottom line

Talk to your doctor/OB provider!


Bonus: so, did I have a home Doppler?

No, I did not. True, I did have access to sonographers and ultrasound machines and I could technically perform detailed scans myself. But throughout my 2 pregnancies, I used the hospital Doppler a handful of times during my first pregnancy, none during my second. I scanned myself a whopping ONCE very early in my first pregnancy.


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#fetaldoppler #homedoppler #ultrasound #loveultrasound #highriskpregnancy #pregnancy #doctoradvice

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