Please note that the UK and US spellings are used interchangeably in the following article, as many home use dopplers carry the US spelling on their packaging.
The first time you will probably hear this device mentioned is at one of your early midwife appointments. It has been used for many years as a harmless way to check on your baby. Most midwives do not recommend using them until at least 16 weeks (to ensure they don’t worry you if a heartbeat can’t be found), but from experience (and many children!) I have been able to use it from 9 weeks so it is possible but not definite. So what makes them such a valuable pregnancy resource?
There are two sides of differing opions as to whether a fetal doppler is an appropriate device for use at home. Medical professionals would not recommend their used without training in case you are unable to locate the heartbeat, which can cause undue stress and worry. If you haven’t had experience with one before, you may pick up the sound of your own heartbeat or even the blood flow in your veins instead of baby’s heartbeat. There is also the small possibility that there could still be something wrong, and in these cases the best advice would be to contact either your midwife or doctor to discuss any concerns you have. However, when used correctly they provide assurance that cannot be undervalued during a pregnancy. For example, you may have an anterior placenta, which lies across the front wall of your womb. In these cases it can be hard if not impossible to feel baby movements, which can cause huge anxiety. The baby can also flip so they are back to back, thus kicking internally and again masking their movements. When it is so important to count the kicks during pregnancy incase of any problems, having your own doppler can be a great support (although this does not in any way substitute the advice that can be given from a medical professional).
How does it work?
The probe uses high frequency sound waves sent in MHz which reflect from your baby’s heart and back to the monitor in Hz, which then produces a human audible sound. The British Medical Ultrasound Society has said that there is no evidence of risk to your baby, so it provides reassurance without harming.
Is it worth it?
I have to say from my experience, I would not have been without my doppler. As long as you appreciate that it might not be possible to locate a heartbeat for several reasons, a doppler is a great pregnancy tool. Not only can it help reassure you all is well with your baby, it is an experience that can be shared with family and friends to involve them in your pregnancy.
One last piece of advice is to always use the special gel formulated for ultrasound equipment. Not only does it provide the correct formula for achieving the clearest sound, it also does not damage the doppler.