Home Use of Fetal Doppler Ultrasound

Unless you’re Tom Cruise, you’re probably not going to have a medical-quality ultrasound machine in your home. (Plus, the FDA recommends against such use anyway.)

However, there are several products on the market that claim to let parents listen to a fetal heartbeat thanks to handheld devices that can be rented or purchased outright.

BabyBeat makes a fetal Doppler with a built-in recorder, which allows the user to record and save the sound of the baby’s heartbeat. The file can even be burned to a CD, e-mailed or posted to a Web site to share with family. Units are generally available to rent by the month, or three- or six-month periods. Shipping is often charged as well. Some companies allow all or a portion of rental fees to be applied toward purchase of the machine if the parents decide they want to keep it. There are several models of Dopplers available for rent or purchase, ranging from about $20 a month for a standard model to $50 a month for one with a recorder. You will also want to purchase some ultrasound gel. To buy a BabyBeat Doppler with recorder outright would cost about $600. StorkRadio without a recorder is about $25 per month or $450 to purchase, or $600 for one with a display. (Longer rentals result in lower per-month rates.) One company, BabyFM, charges by the day (85 cents to $1.85 at the time of this writing), but has a minimum rental period of 60 days.

Obstetrical probes range from 2 MHz to 3 MHz, with 3 MHz being considered the best for detecting fetal heartbeat as early as eight weeks gestation, but most companies suggest holding out on listening for a heartbeat until 10 to 12 weeks, because it’s more likely to be picked up by the Doppler. You can tell your baby’s heartbeat from your own because the baby’s heart beats much faster at between 120 and 180 beats per minute.

While BabyBeat and StorkRadio offer products that have been applied in medical settings, a company called Babycom sells a fetal heartbeat monitoring device designed specifically for home use. It’s priced at about $200.

The use of most Dopplers such as those by BabyBeat and Stork Radio is regulated by the FDA, and thus you must have a doctor’s OK to rent or purchase one. Some companies will fax your obstetrician or midwife on your behalf to get approval forms signed. A hand-held Doppler is considered a Class II Medical Device and thus requires a prescription.. A home Doppler is intended to be used for reassurance and bonding purposes rather than as a diagnostic or medical tool, and is no substitute for prenatal care.

StorkRadio suggests that, early in pregnancy, the baby’s heartbeat can best be detected by placing the Doppler in line with the belly button right above the public hair. Later in pregnancy, the heartbeat will be found higher up. Move the probe slowly, and tilt it town the public bone. The gel or lotion is a must.

On the lower end of the consumer scale is products such as BebeSounds Prenatal Heart Listener, which is a microphone as opposed to actual ultrasound technology. Because of this, the unit is priced low but has mixed reviews. It could be as late as the third trimester before BebeSounds picks up the baby’s heartbeat, and the baby’s position in the womb makes a difference in sound quality as well. The product makes it possible to record the baby’s heartbeat (using the provided cable and your own recorder) for e-mailing and other purposes. BebeSounds, which is sold at many retail stores, also comes with a headset.

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