Midwife's Musings - Should I listen to my baby's heart rate at home?
Is there anything more magical than the moments that you get to hear the reassuring sound of your baby’s heart, rhythmically tapping away?
As a midwife, that is one of my favourite sounds, and it is always such a beautiful moment when you see a Mum’s eyes light up in excitement or her anxieties eased as soon as she hears that gorgeous noise.
Now recently I’ve been seeing a lot of adverts for home dopplers or apps that can be downloaded to turn your phone into a monitor to listen into your baby’s heart rate. I totally get it. I know how reassuring it is to hear that beautiful noise.
However, as a midwife I can tell you that as great as it sounds, using home dopplers can be quite dangerous, and is something that Tommy’s, a charity that specialises in pregnancy loss and the Royal College of Midwives in the UK, advises against. This is for a number of reasons, but first of all, listening to the baby’s heart rate, is just one of many checks that reassures us of yours and your baby’s wellbeing. It forms part of the picture, but we can’t know for certain that everything is going well, just knowing this one piece of information. Secondly, it can actually take some time for midwives and doctors to learn how to use these monitors properly. There are many different sounds that these monitors pick up; the mother’s heart rate, the baby’s movements, the placenta as well as the baby’s heart rate. I’ve had patients who think that they’ve been hearing their baby’s heart rate at home, but actually they are being falsely reassured. This can be dangerous and stop people reaching out for help when it is really needed.
Another thing to be aware of is that sadly it's not uncommon for women to struggle to find their baby’s heart rate, which can happen if the baby has moved into a particularly acrobatic position. This can understandably be really worrying and upsetting if you’re home without anyone trained who can help.
So if it’s not a good idea to listen to a baby’s heart rate without a midwife or doctor, how can I know my baby is well?
The most important factor is monitoring your baby’s movements. Every baby will have their own unique pattern of movement and as long as this is normal for them, it’s a great sign that things are going well. If their movements are reduced, increased or just feel different, then it’s important to get checked out as soon as possible.
Otherwise, keep an eye out. If you have any bleeding, think that your waters might have gone (it’s often not the ‘Hollywood’ gush many expect), you have any stomach pain, severe headaches or anything that just doesn’t feel right or if you’re not sure, then please check in with your doctor or midwife as soon as possible and we would love to do a full assessment. If you’d like any more information have a little look at these websites and please spread the word: