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Should You Buy a Handheld Doppler?

doppler ultrasound The idea of listening to your baby’s heartbeat in the comfort of your own home sounds pretty appealing. And if you flip through baby and pregnancy magazines, chances are you might run across an ad featuring a handheld Doppler heart rate monitor that you can use at home. But should you buy a handheld Doppler?

Portable Doppler ultrasound devices that you can buy online are pocket-sized, battery-operated machines that are placed on your belly, and they send out high-frequency ultrasound waves. The waves pass through your skin and bounce back. The bounce is translated into a sound that you can hear.

Dopplers are perfectly safe to use over a long period of time. In fact, the British Medical Ultrasound Society issued a statement in 2000 that basically said that there has been no evidence that using ultrasound technology – Dopplers included – will harm a pregnancy. Ultrasounds have been used safely for the last 40 years without any problem.

 Why Doctors Warn Against Using Handheld Dopplers

If you ask your doctor or midwife about buying a handheld Doppler, chances are they’ll say NO, you should use them.

Many healthcare experts are against using portable Doppler ultrasound devices at home, since these machines are meant to be used by professionals who have years of training and practice on finding and identifying a baby’s heartbeat.

Another reason that doctors don’t want you to buy a handheld Doppler – it can cause you a lot of unnecessary worry. For example, you may not be able to find your baby’s heartbeat with your Doppler. This can really stress you out. Even seasoned healthcare professionals sometimes have difficulty finding a baby’s heartbeat, but they know what they’re looking for and they have other ways to finding out your baby’s well-being. With a handheld Doppler at home, you might not hear a heartbeat and rush to the emergency room for no reason.

All of this unnecessary worry and stress is definitely not good for your baby.

Handheld Dopplers can also be falsely reassuring. For example, you may have noticed a chance in your baby’s movements. Perhaps he or she has stopped moving. So, you use a handheld Doppler and you hear a sound. Handheld Dopplers may pick up the sound of blood flowing through the placenta, and you – and your untrained ear – can assume that this is your baby’s heartbeat when it’s not. As a result, you may not rush to your doctor – even though you should, in this case – and this can lead to delays in medical treatment.

So these two reasons – the fact that Dopplers can cause unnecessary stress and worry, and they can also be falsely reassuring – doctors recommend that you find out how your baby is doing in other ways. For example, once you start feeling your baby’s movements, pay attention to them. If you notice any change in fetal movements, contact your doctor right away.

Tips for Buying a Handheld Doppler

If you still want to buy a handheld Doppler, you should discuss the idea with your midwife, OB/GYN or healthcare provider. You can also talk to the sonographer the next time you have an ultrasound and ask for his or her opinion.

Other things to keep in mind when buying a handheld Doppler:

  • If the product manufacturer claims that the handheld Doppler can pick up a heartbeat in the first trimester, roll your eyes and ignore it. In reality, even a trained sonographer will not try to listen to your baby’s heartbeat until at least 12 weeks pregnant.
  • Always make sure that the handheld Doppler that you buy comes with a warranty, and that it follows safety standards.
  • Before buying, compare prices to a variety of different Doppler devices. Some will come with batteries, gel, and cases. Other times, these are sold separately.
  • The Doppler that you purchase needs to have instructions, and advice on how you should interpret the sounds that you’re hearing.
  • When using the handheld Doppler, only use gel that is special made for use with ultrasound. Using other oils and gels can damage the Doppler probe, which can skew your results.

Keep in mind that if you EVER notice a change in your baby’s movements, contact your doctor right away to investigate.

About the author: DP Nguyen is founder and editor of Hip Chick’s Guide to PMS, Pregnancy and Babies. She’s an expert pregnancy and women’s health blogger. She is NOT a medical doctor and does NOT offer medical advice. Connect with her on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Commentator June 30, 2016, 11:46 am

    This article is inaccurate. A trained sonographer will look for a heartbeat before 12 weeks.

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