Warning Over Home Fetal Heart Rate Monitors

For further information, contact Melissa Maimann at Essential Birth Consulting. Link

Expectant mothers are being warned over the use personal monitors, such as Doppler devices, to listen to their baby's heartbeat at home. There is concern that they may lead to delays in seeking assistance for reduced fetal movements.

Dr Thomas Aust and colleagues from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Arrowe Park Hospital, Wirral, UK describe the case of a 27 year old woman ... . She presented to their labor ward 32 weeks into her first pregnancy with reduced fetal movements.

Two days earlier, she had first noted a reduction in her baby's activity. But she had used her own Doppler device to listen to the heartbeat and reassured herself that everything was normal.

Additional monitoring by the antenatal care team raised the alarm. The baby was delivered by caesarean section later that evening ...

The authors explain that a hand-held Doppler device assesses the presence of fetal heart pulsations only at that moment. It is used by midwives and obstetricians ... In inexpert hands it is more probable that blood flow through the placenta or the mother's main blood vessels will be heard.

... a fetal Doppler device could be hired for £10 (about 16.46 USD) a month or bought for £25 to 50 (about 41 to 82 USD) ... The companies offering sales state that the device is not intended to replace recommended antenatal care. However, they also make claims such as "you will be able to locate and hear the heartbeat with excellent clarity" ...

I have always been concerned about use of dopplers in this way. Midwives and obstetricians are trained to interpret the baby's heart rate in relation to what is happening for the woman at the time. The best advice for parents is to call your midwife or doctor if you're concerned about your baby - if you feel that something isn't right, or if your baby is not moving as much as s/he usually moves.

Melissa Maimann, Essential Birth Consulting 0400 418 448