How to Use a Fetal Doppler – The Proper Way

What is a Fetal Doppler?

A fetal doppler is an at-home device used to hear a baby’s heartbeat while inside the mother’s womb. The device usually runs on batteries and comes with a probe to glide over the pregnant belly. Using headphones, you, your partner or a friend or family member will be able to hear your baby’s heartbeat. If you’re interested in knowing your baby’s heart rate, some models also come with an LCD display screen.

If you’re wondering how fetal dopplers work, their technology is based on the “doppler effect,” discovered by Christian Doppler, an Austrian mathematician and physicist. To put it simply, the fetal doppler probe sends ultrasound waves into the lower belly. These waves are reflected from the fetal heart, the doppler detects the frequency change and it’s converted into a sound.

Although the at-home models may be relatively new, fetal dopplers have been around since the late ‘50s when they were invented by physician and scientist Edward H. Hon. Since then, they have been used mainly by doctors and midwives.

Since the waves emitted by a fetal doppler are about many times higher than those emitted from an ultrasound machine, the device can safely be used at home. In addition, all of Azac Medical fetal dopplers are FDA and Health Canada approved.

Benefits of Using a Fetal Doppler

More and more pregnant women are beginning to use a fetal doppler at home for various reasons. Apart from just being so much fun to use.

Firstly, many mothers-to-be stress over the health of their fetus. Is he or she okay? How can I be sure nothing is wrong? If you’re a first-time mother and aren’t sure what to expect or if you’ve had previous miscarriages, this can become particularly stressful. Chronic stress may affect the health of you or your baby, so keeping your anxiety levels to a minimum is ideal. Using a fetal doppler can help calm your nerves and reassure you that your baby is okay. While it cannot replace doctor’s appointments, it can be used in between to let you know that your baby is still healthy. Many mothers report feeling a lift of anxiety once they hear their baby’s heartbeat.

If you have a high-risk pregnancy, it is possible that a fetal doppler could detect a problem and alert you to go to the doctors, possibly saving your baby.

Another reason some pregnant women love using a fetal doppler is that it allows a unique bonding experience. It not only allows the mother to connect with her baby but also her partner, friends and family. Listening to the heartbeat of a tiny fetus is a fun and meaningful experience that future grandparents and relatives are often amazed by. Since you’re the only one who can experience your pregnancy, your partner may feel left out at times; however, the fetal doppler allows him to feel more connected to his child.

How to Use a Fetal Doppler

Before you use a fetal doppler, make sure you have all the supplies nearby.

What You’ll Need:
  • Fetal doppler— You will need to decide which fetal doppler is right for you. In our store, we sell Sonoline B Fetal Dopplers and Baby Sound A & B Pocket Fetal Dopplers as well as a few other models. Earphones are included with some pocket fetal dopplers and certain pocket fetal doppler models come with an LCD screen. The Sonoline B doppler has a real time fetal heart rate monitoring feature. If you haven’t purchased your doppler yet, view our comparison chart to help you make the decision about which one is best for you. When you have your doppler, ensure the batteries are inserted and the device turns on.
  • Ultrasound gel— Whichever fetal doppler you chose in our store, you will also receive free sample ultrasound gel. We also sell full bottles of the gel so you will have it on hand when the sample is finished. Ultrasound gel is the best option to reduce static; however, some people also use aloe vera gel, olive oil or a lubricant.
  • Comfortable place to lie— It’s easier to use your fetal doppler when you’re lying down. Use a sofa, bed, massage table or floor mat.
  • Tissues or towel— Have tissues or a towel on hand to wipe off the ultrasound gel after you’re finished.

Before you attempt to use your fetal doppler, you should know a few things. Firstly, it’s recommended that you wait until 12 weeks of pregnancy to try to hear your baby’s heartbeat. Although it’s possible to hear it starting at 8 weeks, it’s unlikely and waiting may cause you to become impatient or worried.

As a general rule, the bigger the baby gets, the easier it will be to hear his or her heartbeat. The sound you hear will also depend on your size and the position of the fetus.

How to Use a Fetal Doppler: Steps

  1. Before you use your doppler, consider that some women report hearing the heartbeat easier in the morning since that’s when the belly is typically the least bloated. Using the doppler while you have a full bladder can also make the heartbeat easier to hear.
  2. To start, lie with your back down on a flat surface. Expose your abdomen like you would during a regular ultrasound.
  3. Apply a blob of ultrasound gel or other lubricant to your lower belly. Since the gel will reduce static, use a generous amount.
  4. Place the doppler probe in the gel and turn the device on.
  5. Starting from your pubic bone, gently glide the probe upwards towards your belly button. Slowly rock the probe, covering every part of your stomach so that you find the fetus.
  6. If you hear a heart beat in your earphones and the display shows a heart beat per minute (BPM) of about 120 or higher, you’ve likely found your fetus. Some women say the sound is similar to galloping horses.
  7. If after a few minutes you cannot find your baby, shut the device off and try another time. You may need to wait for the baby to grow bigger or switch positions.
  8. After you’re finished, clean off the probe to avoid build up. You may choose to wipe it with 70% ethanol and let air dry or simply wipe it with a clean, dry cloth. Do not submerge the device in water (except waterproof models) or apply cleaning chemicals.

    Is my baby’s heart rate normal?

    If your LCD display screen shows a heart rate between 60 and 100 beats per minute, it is probably picking up on your own veins and arteries. A healthy fetus has a heartbeat of around 120 to 180 (yes, it’s a lot faster than adults!). If the heartbeat fades, it could mean he or she is switching positions.

    I hear two heartbeats. Why?

    Hearing two heartbeats could mean one of two things: You’re hearing the same heartbeat in two places or you’re having twins. So, how do you tell which it is? If you’re in the later stages of pregnancy and the two heartbeats are within 10 beats per minute of each other, it’s probably just one fetus.

    Why can’t I hear anything? Does it mean my baby is having complications?

    If you can’t pick up your baby’s heartbeat, it doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is unhealthy. It could mean they are too small or are in a position that makes it hard for the doppler to detect. The heartbeat may also be masked my stomach noises or your own heartbeat. At times, you will hear the heartbeat easier and stronger, and that’s normal. Before 12 weeks, it may be especially difficult to detect any heartbeat. However, if you have a feeling something is wrong, contact your physician.

    Can a fetal doppler replace ultrasound appointments?

    Although an at-home fetal doppler works similar to an ultrasound, it is not the same. You must still attend routine ultrasounds and appointments to ensure you and your baby’s health. Since your doctor is skilled at reading ultrasounds, the at-home device shouldn’t be viewed as a replacement but instead as a tool to use in between checkups.

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