How to Check Your Baby’s Heart Beat

Pregnancy can be one of the most exciting times in your life, filled with fun, hope, and enjoyment. And many pregnant women find that nothing is more exciting than hearing their baby’s heart beat for the first time!

Throughout your pregnancy, your health care practitioner will monitor your baby’s growth and development as well as his heartbeat. Listening to baby’s heartbeat is an important part of your prenatal care, as it can help to inform your practitioner about any possible pregnancy complications. You may also decide to monitor baby’s heart rate for yourself, in the privacy of your own home. But how exactly is baby’s heart rate monitored and how can you find his heartbeat for yourself?

Ready To Hear Your Baby's Heartbeat?

Why Monitor Baby’s Heartbeat?
Fetal heart rate monitoring is one of the most important aspects of prenatal care. Beginning as early as the eighth week of pregnancy, you and your health care provider may be able to detect your baby’s heart rate. By listening regularly to your baby’s heart beat, you and your practitioner can ensure that she is in good health and growing properly.

Many women decide to monitor their baby’s heartbeat at home, in addition to all regular prenatal care visits. Though exciting, pregnancy can also be a nerve wracking time for many mothers, and being able to listen to baby’s heartbeat is often very reassuring. Women who are experiencing high-risk pregnancies (such as those who have preeclampsia or hypertension) may also wish to check their baby’s heart rate at home, in order to help monitor their pregnancies better.

Monitoring Baby’s Heartbeat at Home
At home, you can monitor your baby’s heartbeat using a machine called a fetal doppler. A fetal doppler is a small, handheld device that monitors and displays the number of heart beats your baby experiences every minute. It works by bouncing sound waves off of your baby’s heart. The motion that your baby’s heart makes when it is beating changes the shape of these sound waves. The baby doppler then picks up these changed sound waves and amplifies it, in the form of your baby’s heartbeat.

Fetal dopplers are safe to use at home, without the help of a certified professional. However, it is important to make sure that you are using an FDA-approved doppler. And don’t use your doppler too much, either. Though ultrasound is safe for baby, you don’t want to take any chances. Try to stick to no more than two or three ten minute exams each week.

When to Monitor Baby’s Heartbeat
You can begin to monitor your baby’s heartbeat anytime after the 10th week of pregnancy. However, it may be difficult for you to hear the beat before the 12th week. You can continue listening to your baby’s heartbeat right up until your due date.

Using a Fetal Doppler
Detecting baby’s heartbeat is not always an easy thing, so here are some tips on how to perform a successful exam. Remember, you may not hear baby’s heartbeat on the first try, so remain patient and keep trying.

 

  • Read all instructions included with your fetal doppler. Many fetal dopplers come with an audio recording of a baby’s heartbeat. Listen to this prior to your exam, so you are familiar with how your baby’s heartbeat may sound.
  • Turn your fetal doppler on. Check the display to make sure that it’s working.
  • Apply lots of ultrasound gel to the face of the doppler’s probe and to your belly. This ultrasound gel will help the doppler glide more easily, and will help pick up your baby’s heart rate.
  • Lie down or sit in a comfortable chair.
  • Place the doppler probe on your abdomen, just below your belly button but above your pubic bone.
  • Begin to move the probe slowly, starting at the middle of your stomach. Rock the probe gently, back and forth, making sure not to miss any part of your belly.
  • Be sure to keep the probe in contact with your skin at all times, in order to get the best amplification possible. You may hear static on the machine. If so, apply more ultrasound gel.

 

Hearing The Heartbeat
Your baby’s heartbeat may sound much faster than you at first expected. The fetal heartbeat can be anywhere between 120 and 180 beats per minute (bpm); this is much faster than our own heartbeats. Many women describe their babies’ heartbeats like the sound of a galloping horse. If your fetal doppler has a display screen, the number of beats per minute should appear here. If not, count the number of beats you hear in the span of ten seconds, then multiply this number by six. This will give you your baby’s heart rate in beats per minute.

Sometimes the fetal doppler appears to pick up two separate heartbeats. Don’t panic – this does not necessarily mean you are having twins! The way the sound waves reflect off baby’s heart sometimes causes this to occur. Be sure to count the beats of each separate heartbeat; twins will have two different heart rates.

If You Can’t Hear the Heartbeat
It is often very difficult to hear your baby’s heart beat using a fetal doppler. If you are early in your pregnancy, the heartbeat may not be strong enough to hear with this machine. Or your baby may simply be in a position that doesn’t allow the doppler to pick up the heart rate. Whatever you do, try not to panic. Perform each test when your bladder is full, so that your uterus is pushed up closer to the face of the doppler. If you still can’t hear the heartbeat, test again later or visit with your health care provider – she can advise you on how to use your doppler.

Other Types of Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring

You may already have heard your baby’s heartbeat during some of your prenatal appointments. Your health care provider will listen to and monitor baby’s heart rate during each checkup after eight weeks of pregnancy. Each heart rate will be recorded in your baby’s file. Your health care provider will also use a fetal doppler to measure baby’s heartbeat. However, she may also use a couple of other techniques to perform fetal monitoring.

Fetoscope
A Fetoscope is a listening device that looks very much like a stethoscope. It is equipped with a special headset, which allows your health care practitioner to listen to your baby’s heartbeat. The fetoscope is simply placed on different locations around your abdomen in order to detect the heartbeat.

Electronic Fetal Monitoring
During labor and delivery, your baby’s heartbeat may also be monitored using electronic fetal monitoring. This allows your health care provider to monitor your baby’s heart rate continuously throughout labor. If there are any sudden changes in your baby’s heart beat, electronic fetal monitoring will help to keep your physician well-informed. Electronic fetal monitoring also records the contractions that you experience during labor. This information can be used to determine how well baby is coping with delivery.

There are two main types of electronic fetal monitoring:

 

  • External Electronic Fetal Monitoring: External electronic fetal monitoring is performed using a special set of electrodes that are attached to the outside of your abdomen. These electrodes, called transducers, are two special electronic disks. They help to receive and record baby’s heartbeat and your contractions. These two electrodes are attached to a stretchy band that is placed around your abdomen. They are then connected to a machine beside you, which displays information about your baby’s heartbeat and your contractions in graph form. Most women find that an external electronic fetal monitor is completely painless, though you may find it uncomfortable to be tethered to a machine for long periods of time. New technology has now allowed for portable electronic fetal monitoring, which uses a radio-transmitter attached to your ankle. This allows you to walk around during labor, while still monitoring baby’s heartbeat and your contractions.
  • Internal Electronic Fetal Monitoring: Sometimes, electronic fetal monitoring is performed internally. An electrode is passed through your cervix and attached directly to baby. This electrode, called a scalp electrode, looks much like a tiny spring, and is attached to the very top of baby’s head. This transmits information about your baby’s heartbeat to a monitor beside you. Internal electronic fetal monitoring is very accurate, however, it can only be performed if your water has broken and if your cervix is partially dilated. Some women choose not to have internal electronic fetal monitoring because it does carry some risk of infection.

 

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