Home foetal dopplers and Apps are becoming more concerning as we see social media inundated with marketing for these devices.
We are seeing a rise in marketing for home dopplers and phone Apps, which monitor baby’s heartbeat while they are inutero. They are a very popular purchase by or for couples expecting a baby, especially with anxious first-time mums. This blog might create a little fear, because I do talk about stillbirth, but it is about educating women and their partners and recognising that home dopplers can be fun, but there are risks associated with using them so raising awareness is the aim.
We understand the excitement of hearing your baby’s heartbeat and making sure that everything is going well.
But is it going well?
What happens when you can’t hear the heartbeat?
How do you determine if that heartbeat rate is what it should be?
What happens if you are hearing what you think is your baby’s heartbeat, but it is in fact the cord or placenta?
Undoubtedly the steady increase of home dopplers is very concerning to health care providers, because it means that women are not listening to their innate instincts when something feels different and are relying on these devices to indicate if their baby is well. Dopplers are medical devices, and health care providers undertake extensive clinical training to ensure that they understand how to use them and can quickly and accurately identify if there is a problem by assessing the pattern and rate of the baby’s heartbeat.
When something doesn’t feel right, women are reaching for the doppler, and they hear that swishing thumping sound and it gives them reassurance that everything must be okay because they can hear their baby’s heartbeat.
But is it your baby’s heartbeat?
Hannah Dahlen, Professor of Midwifery and Researcher at the University of Western Sydney said “The increased use of hand held Dopplers by women at home is concerning as they can give false reassurance on the one hand and cause unnecessary anxiety on the other when you are not trained to know what to listen for. The best indication of a baby’s wellbeing is the movements and women are the experts of that. Any significant changes in the baby’s movements need to be reported and followed up by a health provider. Dopplers should be in the same category as a medication, and you would not self-prescribe medication. Unfortunately health providers are modelling poor practice in this area by their own excessive use of technology that has little evidence to support it. Women see all this technology used on them or in TV programs about birth and think this must be a good thing.”
Researcher, speaker, midwife and author Dr Sara Wickham also raises concerns about ultrasounds in an article she wrote recently and states “Doppler ultrasound can be very useful when employed judiciously. However, we don’t know enough about whether frequent use or overuse is harmful to babies. So it should be reserved for times of genuine medical benefit (and even then only with the mother’s informed consent, because some women don’t want it used at all) and certainly not used routinely or recreationally.”
UK stillbirth organisation Kicks Count states: “These devices are sending ultrasound waves into your body that reflect off moving blood vessels and simulate sound. The placenta also pulses at the same rate as the heart and the mother’s main artery runs across the abdomen along with many other vessels that can simulate the sound of a baby’s heart.”
There are also concerns around the frequency of using ultrasound, and even with home dopplers your baby may be exposed to ultrasound waves, therefore this could have an effect on a developing baby because the duration and number of times the doppler is used is uncontrolled.
Women are using home dopplers daily, sometimes several times a day, for extensive periods of time, or whenever someone comes to visit they excitedly get out the doppler and say, “hey do you want to hear the baby?” so what effect is that having on their baby? We don’t know because not enough research has been done yet, and we may not see the effects until much later in the future but even governing bodies such as ACOG state:
“Currently, there is no evidence that ultrasound is harmful to a developing fetus. No links have been found between ultrasound and birth defects, childhood cancer, or developmental problems later in life. However, it is possible that effects could be identified in the future. For this reason, it is recommended that ultrasound exams be performed only for medical reasons by qualified health care professionals. Casual use of ultrasound during pregnancy should be avoided.”
If you have any concerns about your baby’s movements – either reduced or increased and it has raised some kind of alarm within you, or you feel the need to write on social media “I can’t remember the last time I felt my baby move” then this is a good indicator that you should call your health care provider and go in to be checked by a professional who has been highly trained in using a doppler or an ultrasound.
If you have noticed something has changed, or movements are irregular or something feels different, then it may mean your baby is unwell.
Do not drink cold, icy or sugary drinks to get your baby moving, which is what I see suggested a lot on social media.
By drinking cold sugary drinks that might make your baby move so again that lulls you into a false sense of reassurance – the same as a home doppler would. Don’t waste time if you have any concerns – it is far better to go in and get checked properly by a professional.
Never wait until the next day to seek advice because that delay could be life threatening.
I recently attended the Still Aware Clinical Workshop in Perth with the Founder Claire Foord and she stated that 6 babies are stillborn every day in Australia, even though internationally we have seen a 50% reduction in recent years due to more education and communication around stillbirth.
The Still Aware website also states “Do not use any hand-held monitors, Dopplers or phone apps to check your baby’s heartbeat. Even if you detect a heartbeat, this does not mean your baby is well.”
What you should be looking for is 3 characteristics of wellbeing:
- Frequency of movements;
- Strength of movements – a baby doesn’t slow down, and it doesn’t run out of room – it may be more constricted but will still be strong; and
- Pattern – your baby will have a regular patterns of movements you will come to know and anticipate during the day or night.
Claire also mentioned that if a mum is concerned about her baby’s movements, then a hospital or care provider should be concerned as well. Don’t take no for an answer if you have those concerns because mums know their babies better than anyone.
You can look at more resources from Still Aware on their website:
Many of the companies that are marketing dopplers are stating that it causes no harm to your baby, but it is “important to recognise that the untrained use of foetal heart monitors constitutes a risk to the safety of pregnant women and their unborn babies.”
This obviously causes harm!
One of my favourite shows Gogglebox had me shouting “NOOOOOOOO” at the screen the other day when Matty announced he had bought a doppler and proceeded to use it on Sarah Marie’s belly and he says proudly “that’s my son in there” as he uses his hands to indicate the rate of the heartbeat and says “he’s a raver” – no Matty, that was not your son, that was the cord or the placenta as stated by trained midwives who were also watching. We can’t have award-winning TV shows like this one influencing women to buy a doppler so they can check the wellbeing of their baby – it is inappropriate and irresponsible.
Associate Professor Jane Warland from the University of South Australia – School of Nursing and Midwifery said, “As a stillbirth researcher I work with clinicians both in Australia and overseas who hold significant concerns about these technologies because if the woman relies on them instead of trusting, and acting on, her own maternal instinct then this could easily end in disaster for her, her unborn baby or both.”
Here is an interview Jane did with ABC Radio National about stillbirth. Research shows that any change in your baby’s normal pattern of movement should be reported to your care provider immediately. Increase or decrease could be a sign of a baby in distress so immediate reporting may help to prevent stillbirth.
So the important message here is rather than have a home doppler, get to know your baby’s normal movements becoming aware of the pattern, the strength and frequency and definitely don’t compare your pregnancy to anyone else’s. Report any concerns you have to your health care provider – it is better to be checked and nothing be wrong than leave it and have a distressing outcome. Trust your intuition.
Associate Professor Jane Warland from the University of South Australia – School of Nursing and Midwifery has written these articles:
My name is Vicki Hobbs and I am a Childbirth Educator (Back to Basics Birthing), Hypnobirthing Australia Practitioner, Certified VBAC Educator, Remedial Massage Therapist specialising in Pregnancy & Postpartum Massage, Birth & Postpartum Doula, Certified Placenta Encapsulator, Hypnotherapist, Aromatherapist, Reiki Practitioner and Life Coach. I am a serial workshopper and learner, so that I keep up to date with new research and information so that I can provide you with up to date resources. My focus has always been on the mind, the body and the emotions and how they all need to be in balance for harmony. You can subscribe to my newsletter by adding your details in the box on the right-hand side and when you do I will send you a free relaxation meditation to help you feel calm and relaxed. I am based in the northern suburbs of Perth and can be contacted by email at [email protected] or phone (08) 9303 9111 or click here to go back to my Blog Page for more great articles and information.