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We recently described what the future of portable ultrasound machines would be. At-home fetal dopplers are simple devices that can be used both by expecting mums or pet lovers to listen and record fetal heartbeats. As stated by numerous medical authorities, including the FDA and the British NHS, it is imperative to remember that qualified medical professionals the only ones properly qualified to perform doppler analyses and diagnose them. So what are the pros of cons of listening to fetal heartbeats at home? Are they safe, and do you really need one?
What is a fetal doppler?
The physical principles behind the technology are simple. They work basically as the echolocation used by bats. Doppler ultrasound devices use a probe to send high-frequency sound waves through the amniotic sac. Once the wave detects fetal movements, the signal will bounce back, be processed,, and record the internal fetal heart rate.
Fetal imaging devices used at the doctor’s office will record both sounds and images, while more simple at-home devices will only offer heartbeat monitoring capabilities.
What are the benefits of at-home fetal dopplers?
Contrary to the FDA-approved and medical-grade doppler machines used by obstetricians to check on the baby’s development, the home devices will only record the sound produced by the baby’s heartbeat. The benefits are then limited even though listening to your baby is a moving experience. It is important to note that home monitor devices should not be used for home medical diagnostics.
In our opinion, by offering the possibility to record baby sound, at-home dopplers provide a very cost-efficient way to build memories and start bonding with the developing fetus—no more than that.
For animal lovers, no rules have been defined on their use. Fetal doppler devices can be used to monitor puppies’ or kittens’ development, bringing joyful memories. It can also be an educative device for children.
What are the risks of at-home fetal dopplers?
Expecting mums should also be aware of the false sense of security given by these types of monitors. In 2004, the Foor and Drug Administration, FDA, warned against the use of OTC fetal-dopplers. When the product is purchased over the counter and used without consultation with a health care professional taking care of the pregnant woman, there is no oversight of how the device is used.
On top of that, the probe will emit sound waves that carry energy. The long-lasting effects of these sound waves, especially during frequent and long analyses, have not been accessed yet. The safety principle applies.
Shahram Vaezy, Ph.D., an FDA biomedical engineer, warmed against such devices stating that the long-term effect of the minimal heat produced by ultrasound was unknown. He added that “the number of sessions or the length of a session in scanning a fetus is uncontrolled, and that increases the potential for harm to the fetus and eventually the mother.”
According to an article published in 2009 in The British Medical Journal (BMJ), the “untrained use of fetal heart monitors constitutes a risk to the safety of pregnant women and their unborn babies.” Especially, it can give a false sense of safety to expecting women.
Devices to consider for hearing your baby’s heartbeat.
When used in the limit of reason and not for diagnostic purposes, at-home fetal dopplers are reasonably priced and readily available. We selected two of them that received numerous praises. Important to mention that these devices are not approved by the FDA and should not be considered medical devices.
BabyTone™ by Wellue
Wellue is a renowned company when it comes to healthcare consumer products. The fetal heartbeat can be recorded from the 12 weeks of pregnancy using a 2.5 MHz probe. The device comes with an extra 100 ml coupling gel for better transmission and recording of the signals. The noise reduction algorithm offers sound improvement for clear recording of the heart sound.
As with all Wellue products, the companion app is iOS and Android compatible. It allows to record the heart sounds and define the Fetal Heart Rate. The recording can be shared with friends, family members, or even your doctor or telehealth provider.
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This fetal monitor is also a solid choice and is easy to use, even though we regret that it does not come with an App. It does what it has been designed for: listen to the heart of the baby and offers three modes: real-time heart display, average heart rate or manual—no bells and whistles, just a pocket fetal doppler monitor that will detect sounds.
To wrap up
At-home fetal dopplers are a nice way to monitor your baby. Still, as we repeatedly mentioned in this article, they should not be considered an alternative to regular visits with your physician. Use them reasonably for bonding and recording memories that will last but never rely only on them to assess the health of your baby.
In case of doubt, always consult your obstetrician who received proper training on how to interpret a doppler and use devices that are FDA-approved.