Published on October 3rd, 2019 and Updated on February 26th, 2020
(Originally published July 16th, 2018, this article has been revised to reflect the most up-to-date information)
For many women, the joy of feeling their baby moving inside them comes from both the excitement and relief of knowing their baby is alive and healthy. This movement begins as early as 13-16 weeks into pregnancy, and from there, it’s only a matter of time before your little one starts practicing karate.
Starting at Just 13 Weeks into Pregnancy
What many women don’t know is that during this same time, as your baby is getting a feel for you, you can also start to get to know your baby. As early as 13 weeks into pregnancy, your baby’s heartbeat can be heard from the comfort of your couch. How? Aha, glad you asked!
Enter, the at-home fetal doppler (also known as a baby heart monitor).
With these devices, you can hear the sound of your baby’s heartbeat and movements any time you choose. And for any of you worry warts out there (*raises hand, slowly*), you know how comforting it is to be sure that your baby is okay and thriving. Thus, the magic of these devices truly shines. To help you choose among the top at-home fetal dopplers—and to learn more about them—read ahead.
Don’t Be Discouraged by How Much There is to Know!
If you’re looking for the perfect fetal doppler, then you might feel like you’re standing at the tip of a massive informational iceberg. With any pregnancy device comes hundreds of articles on the different options and models and warning labels surrounding it.
The purpose of this article is to give you both an overview of what to look for in a fetal doppler as well as to provide you with the in-depth information needed to be confident in your choice. Okay, back to it!
What Exactly Does a Baby Heart Monitor Do?
It monitors a baby’s heart, duh! Okay, okay, funny joke. But before we can assess different kinds of fetal dopplers, perhaps it’s good to get on the same page. Yes, a baby heart monitor “monitors a heartbeat,” but exactly how it does this is fascinating.
The Doppler Effect – How it Works
A fetal doppler works by using sound waves to identify moving objects. The “Doppler effect” is when a sound wave changes based on when an object is moving toward or away from you. This machine utilizes this effect to detect the back and forth movement of a heartbeat.
Pretty cool, right? And for any of you history or science buffs out there:
- The Doppler effect was discovered by Christian Doppler in 1842.
- The Doppler effect can be readily heard: When a car is moving toward you, the noise from the engine will have a higher pitch. When it’s moving away from you, it will have a lower pitch. Doppler Magic!
- It took over 100 years before the fetal doppler was first introduced into obstetrics.
Why Use a Baby Heart Monitor?
Did you know that around 18 weeks into your pregnancy, your baby will begin to hear sounds outside of the womb? This is why babies will sometimes respond to the sound of their mother’s voice immediately after being born—they recognize that nurturing tone after listening to it for 22 weeks. (Same goes for you dads, too! Singing to your baby in the womb is a great way to form a connection before your baby is due).
While your baby is getting to know you, wouldn’t it be great if the relationship was mutual? Thus, the reason for a baby monitor:
- Bond with your baby sooner – Mothers want to do everything they can to bond with their growing baby. Fetal dopplers provide an intimate connection that wasn’t readily available for previous generations. Today, you can hear when they hiccup and listen to their fast heartbeat. A fetal doppler is your own personal stethoscope into any other sound they make while moving around.
- Reassurance – It’s incredibly stressful for some women to go weeks between doctor’s visits, unsure if their baby is healthy and well. Having a safe, easy-to-use fetal doppler at home allows peace of mind for exactly that situation.
As you’re probably well aware, it’s not about buying any old at-home fetal doppler; it’s about finding the right one for you.
Qualities of Top At-Home Fetal Dopplers
Knowing how to choose best baby heart monitor is difficult with all the different kinds, brands, and styles available on the market. To help break each one down by their different characteristics, here are the qualities to look for in top at-home fetal dopplers:
- Ease of use
- Listening options
- Recording features
- All-inclusive packaging
Usability: How Easy it is to Use
The science behind a fetal doppler is incredibly complex, and the people who were ingenious enough to create these machines had PhDs and attended far too many math classes. But just because the piece of machinery is complex, doesn’t mean it should be complicated to use.
Here’s how easy it should be to use a fetal doppler:
- Sit in a reclined position with your feet propped up so that you’re comfortable.
- Apply the ultrasound gel to both your chest and your abdomen. (The reason being it’s much easier to get a feel for how the doppler works on your own heartbeat first.)
- Turn on the doppler and gently place it on your chest where you applied the gel. Once you can hear your heartbeat, it’s time to check on your baby.
- Make sure the volume is turned up to the appropriate volume.
- Adjust the position of the doppler by changing the angle until you hear it. Then sit back and enjoy the sound of your healthy baby.
- Press the record button to share with family and friends later.
That’s it. Simple enough, right?
It’s important to note that using a fetal doppler effectively is more of an art than a science. If on your first attempt you don’t manage to find your baby’s heartbeat, don’t stress! Many women go through a few attempts before getting the hang of it. For tips on how to use the fetal doppler, check below.
For such an intricate and delicate procedure, you’d expect these machines to be the size of your oven and come with massive interweaving wires. Yet, the best fetal dopplers are portable and can be taken with you when you travel. In terms of portability, that means:
- The device itself is handheld
- It runs on batteries
- Easy to pack and take on the go
Now for the best part of the entire process—the pièce de résistance—the listening experience. Choosing the right fetal doppler means having all the different listening options available to you, including:
- Option for headphones – For an intimate one-on-one experience with you and your little one, be sure there is an option for headphones. This is also great if for some reason there’s a lot of noise going on around you and you’re struggling to find the sweet spot on the doppler.
- Built-in speakers – Of course, when you want to share the moment with your partner and loved ones, having speakers built into the device makes the moment equally magical for all.
To savor these moments for the rest of your life, having the ability to record the sound of your growing baby’s heartbeat is a must-have feature. Additionally, for family and friends who live far away, you can record and send them the heartbeat (and the hiccups)—straight from your home to theirs.
Plug and Play: All-Inclusive Packaging
The last thing you want to do when you first receive your baby heart monitor is get stuck fiddling with all the knobs, buttons, and wires. A proper fetal doppler should come ready to be used—just toss in a battery and enjoy the most wonderful sounds a soon-to-be-mother could hear.
If you’re considering putting anything near your baby, of course you want to be certain of its utmost safety. That’s why it’s necessary to find a fetal doppler that has been FDA-cleared. This clearance means that the product is both safe and effective, and the product is shown to be equivalent to another product on the market that is verified by the FDA to be safe.
Of course, any product can be misused—and this can create stigmas that stave off nervous parents. Because dopplers are used so close to your precious baby, let’s uncover all the safety concerns.
Safety Concerns Surrounding a Fetal Doppler
Because ultrasound technology doesn’t use ionizing radiation, the FDA confirmed there are no known risks of using an at-home fetal doppler. Despite this, there are some precautions to understand about the usage of these devices.
- They shouldn’t replace doctor’s visits – Some mothers believe that because they can hear their baby moving with a proper heartbeat, they can skip the more expensive doctor’s visits. However, this can be dangerous for your baby. A fetal doppler is meant to be a device that allows you to bond with and feel closer to your growing baby; it is not meant to replace the extensive testing that your physician will perform in a proper doctor’s office.
- Unnecessary panic – Another concern to be aware of is how mothers won’t always be able to find the right spot to hear their baby’s heartbeat. Even with a trained physician in a doctor’s office, detecting a heartbeat can be unsuccessful due to the positioning of the baby. For mothers who aren’t trained in obstetrics, this can cause unnecessary panic.
- Pressing the monitor too hard – If you’re pressing hard enough to experience pain, this could cause your growing baby discomfort. Only a gentle touch is needed for the doppler to work. That’s why it’s important to check for your own heartbeat first—you can see how lightly you need to press the monitor.
- Prolonged exposure to ultrasound – Because there isn’t a doctor present to oversee the doppler use, some mothers may use the baby monitor for longer periods than recommended. While no negative signs have been linked to prolonged ultrasound exposure, it is known that it can warm up tissue and produce small pockets of gas in body tissue—whether that’s harmful to your baby is unconfirmed. Basically, if you want to sleep to the wonderful sound of your baby’s heartbeat, make it a recording and put it on repeat.
The Best Choice of Top At-Home Fetal Dopplers
Put all these attributes together and you have a device that’s portable and easy to use, with all the features you need to listen, record, and share these early moments of your daughter or son with your loved ones. Plus, now you don’t have to count down the days until your next doctor’s visit to hear the joyous drum of your baby’s new life.
For a product that was built to give you the best of these features, there’s the SneakPeek Fetal Doppler.
What the SneakPeek Doppler Offers
With its state-of-the-art design, this egg-shaped portable fetal doppler can be used as early as 13 weeks into pregnancy. It comes with everything you need to get started right away. Just put in the battery, apply the ultrasound gel, and enjoy the rhythmic melody of your baby’s heart.
The SneakPeek doppler is:
- FDA-cleared for a safe and noninvasive way to bond with your child
- Compact and can be taken with you wherever you go
- Inexpensive, only $49.99, and it comes with free shipping
Tips When Using an At-home Fetal Doppler
Now that we know what the fetal doppler is, how it works, and the common safety concerns, here are some tips when using it. Many mothers have reported that it takes a few tries to get the hang of finding their baby’s heartbeat. That’s okay! Like we mentioned above, it’s much more of an art than a science.
For the best results, here are some tricks you can try to find your baby’s heartbeat:
- Try different times of the day – Your baby tends to move around a lot at different times of the day. This can make it hard to find their heartbeat because the movement itself will be picked up by the doppler. Try to wait for when your baby is calm.
- Clean the probe – If this isn’t your first use, make sure the probe is clean. Any space between your stomach and the probe could disrupt the reading (this is the reason for the gel—it helps remove any air pockets between probe and abdomen).
- Try different positions – Depending on the angle of the uterus and pelvic bone, it might be easier to find your baby’s heartbeat lying down, reclined, or sitting upright. You’re aiming for a chest you can’t see, which means the guess-and-check method will be your best friend here.
- Use different amounts of gel – Some claim that the more gel the better; some claim the opposite. If you’re struggling to hear the heartbeat, try using different amounts of ultrasound gel.
And as a final tip: don’t get discouraged! Because we’re talking about hearing your baby’s heartbeat—one of the most precious sounds to a new mother—women can often become discouraged quickly. If you’re feeling this way, try taking some time away and coming back a week later. You may find this next time around… you find it on your first try.
Web MD. Feeling Your Baby Kick. https://www.webmd.com/baby/fetal-movement-feeling-baby-kick#1
Encyclopedia Britannica. Christian Doppler. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Christian-Doppler
Healthline. When Can a Fetus Hear? https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/when-can-a-fetus-hear#1
FDA. Ultrasound Imaging. https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emitting-products/medical-imaging/ultrasound-imaging
NCBI. A Short History of Sonography in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3987368/