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What Everyone Gets Wrong About Fetal Dopplers, According to an OB-GYN

What Everyone Gets Wrong About Fetal Dopplers, According to an OB-GYN

If you can't get enough of the sweet sound of your baby's heartbeat, you may have considered buying yourself a fetal doppler so you can listen to it from the comfort of your own home. At first glance, fetal dopplers seem pretty great: They can be relatively affordable, readily available on sites like Amazon, and put the ability to check up on your baby right at your fingertips. But before you prepare to order one of your own, you may want to hear an OB-GYN's take on the fetal doppler trend.

Doctor's orders

We spoke to Dr. Tami Prince, an OB-GYN and best-selling author, who gave us a better understanding of what pregnant women need to consider before investing in fetal dopplers. Her take on buying one for at-home use? “It’s a totally bad idea,' she shared.

Dr. Prince did offer up a caveat: If you're an OB-GYN yourself, you can use a doppler at home to check up on your baby — but most of us simply don't have the training needed to make sense of a dopplers' reading.

'We’re trained as OB-GYNs to know what a fetal heart rate should sound like and where to actually find it on the body,' Dr. Prince said. 'You don’t just put it on your body — you have to know the positioning of your baby and where it’s best to listen. So unless you’re trained in the fetal positions and where is, you may be listening to your heartbeat. I never recommend it for my patients.”

What you can do instead

The good news? Dr. Prince was able to suggest an alternative method for at-home fetal monitoring...and this is even simpler. “The best thing for patients who are non-medical is to do fetal kick counts,' the doctor shared. 'If you don’t feel the baby move, stop what you’re doing and rest. Sometimes you don’t really perceive motion when you yourself are in motion. So you stop and you rest and you lie down, preferably on your left side, and you count the kicks within an hour.'

In most cases, your baby should kick at least ten times within that hour. “If they’re kicking you ten times or more, your baby is great,' Dr. Prince assured us.

Don't be alarmed if you don't feel that many kicks, though — you may have just caught your baby in the middle of a sleep cycle. But if you're not feeling any movement for hours and have any other concerns (like vaginal bleeding or high blood pressure), a call to your doctor is definitely in order.

The drawback? You'll have to wait until you're fairly far along in your pregnancy to implement this. 'I recommend fetal kick counts at about 28 weeks for a normal pregnancy,' Dr. Prince said. 'At 24 weeks, which is considered viability, most women will feel some active movement but may not be consistent. By 26-28 weeks those movements become even stronger and can be counted on a consistent basis.'
Have a chat with your doctor if you're at this point in your pregnancy and don't feel much movement — it may just be related to the placement of your placenta.

So what can you do if you're not far enough along to feel kicks?

If you're still relatively early on in your pregnancy — and not yet feeling any fetal movement — you may be wondering how you can keep tabs on your baby between doctor's appointments. Dr. Prince's advice? “If you’re not having any vaginal bleeding and you’re feeling healthy, there’s no need to panic.”

What people get wrong about at-home monitoring

“I think is that they are going to know every aspect of their baby’s well-being. The heart rate is just one aspect — there are many things we use to determine a fetus’s well-being...The doppler is not telling you long-term how the baby is doing,' Dr. Prince said.

According to Dr. Prince, a lot of patients are asking about at-home fetal monitoring these days.

“I have patients ‘oh do you think I should buy an ultrasound monitor at home?’ ‘Why? You don’t know what you’re looking at. Why are going to stress yourself out?’ That’s what happens a lot of the time when you’re not trained you don’t get the result you want...you get frustrated. That leads to more panic. I tend to try to get my patients away from that.”

The final verdict?

Of course, you're welcome to discuss this with your own doctor if you're considering buying a doppler, but Dr. Prince believes most other OB-GYNs would agree with her take. “I have not heard any of my OB-GYN colleagues say they’re a good idea or have tried to encourage their patients to get them,' she said.

'If you’re really anxious about something, just call the doctor,' Dr. Prince advised. “Sometimes just speaking with a physician or someone on their staff will just calm your fears.”

About the expert: Tami M. Prince, M.D., “The Nation’s Bedside Doctor,” is an Obstetrician/Gynecologist and OccupationalMedicine physician, bestselling author, and highly regarded keynote speaker. She has her own medical consulting practice, Women’s Health and Wellness Center of Georgia, LLC, and also currently serves as a Medical Director with the nation’s largest occupational medical group where she specializes in caring for the American workforce, especially pregnant injured workers.

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