Fetal heart rate monitors - reassurance?

During pregnancy, it is very normal for women to crave reassurance that their baby is healthy.  The purpose of regular antenatal care is to ensure the health and well being of the mother and baby, but for some women, it is this period between visits with their midwife or doctor that concern starts to build.  Is the baby ok?  How do they know? Some women purchase or hire fetal heart rate monitors (dopplers) to keep track of their baby’s heart rate.  They feel that if they can hear a heartbeat, all is well and they feel reassured.  Midwives and doctors general recommend against this practice.  But why, if it provides women with reassurance?

When a midwife or doctor listens into baby with a doppler (or pinards), they are interpreting several aspects of the baby’s heartbeat, and they are putting this piece of clinical information together with the other aspects of the antenatal visit to create a complete clinical picture of the health and well being of the mother and baby.  It is simply not as simple as listening to the baby’s heartbeat in isolation and without reference to the overall health and well being of the woman.

As well, the interpretation of the baby’s heart rate and rhythm requires a degree of clinical training.  The mere presence of a heartbeat is not necessarily reassuring, and by the same token, it is very common for there to be some difficulty in locating the heartbeat and in differentiating the heartbeat from the other sounds that emanate from the uterus.

So, if midwives and doctors recommend women do not use monitors to reassure themselves of their baby’s well being, how can a woman feel reassured?

The simplest and most effective way for a pregnant woman to monitor her baby is to monitor the baby’s movements after 28 weeks of pregnancy.  A healthy baby moves, and often quite a lot!  Monitoring the baby’s movements after 28 weeks, and reporting a reduction in movements to your midwife or obstetrician is by far the safest and most effective way to monitor the health of your baby between appointments.

Melissa Maimann is an eligible midwife in private practice in Sydney.  One of the first eligible midwives in Australia, Melissa offers a range of care options for women.  Visit Melissa's website to learn more about her services.