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Midwives warn over risk of unreliable home dopplers to measure unborn babies' heartbeats

Their use is being 'strongly discouraged'

Rachel Hosie
Thursday 24 August 2017 10:19 BST
Firms are being urged to make sure staff on maternity leave are told about training opportunities
Firms are being urged to make sure staff on maternity leave are told about training opportunities (Getty/iStock)

Midwives and health experts are warning the public to stop using home dopplers to measure their unborn babies’ heartbeats.

The devices are becoming increasingly popular amongst expectant mothers who seek reassurance that their growing baby is fine, but they can in fact be very misleading.

Home dopplers - which can cost hundreds of pounds - are not as reliable as many people think and can lull parents into a false sense of security.

According to midwife Hannah Harvey, half the mothers she sees use dopplers at home, and that number is increasing.

“But a trained midwife looks for all kinds of things from a doppler reading, such as acceleration and deceleration of the heartbeat, which can be a sign the baby is in distress and could result in a stillbirth,” Harvey told The Daily Mail.

“A mother might hear her baby’s heart beating at 90 beats per minute (bpm) and assume everything is alright — but a midwife would know a healthy range should be between 110 and 160 bpm.”

She says that rather than focussing on the sound of the heartbeat, a mother should get used to how the movement of the baby feels and what’s normal.

Some women become obsessed with checking their baby’s heartbeat with a doppler, but it’s very easy to mistake the sound of the placenta or the mother’s own heartbeat for the baby’s.

“I found my doppler an absolute godsend in both this and my previous pregnancy as I have had multiple [miscarriages],” one woman wrote on Mumsnet.

“It’s a godsend,” agreed another. “My [little one] has been very quiet the last couple of days after being very wriggly. I was really worried until I got out the doppler and could hear all was fine. I’d have gone mental without it.”

But experts say the dopplers shouldn’t be trusted.

What’s more, if you use the doppler and don’t hear anything, this sends many expectant parents into a panic.

“These devices can cause huge anxiety among pregnant women if they are not able to hear their baby’s heartbeat and therefore understandably worry until they can see their doctor or midwife,” Dr Alison Wright, Vice President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, told the BBC.

She added that she “strongly discourages” using dopplers.

Manufacturers say the devices shouldn’t be used as a substitute for medical care, but there is currently a campaign calling for sales of dopplers to be banned.

“The Government has set a target to reduce the number of stillbirths and neonatal deaths by half by 2030,” said Elizabeth Hutton, CEO of the charity Kicks Count, which has launched a petition. “The banning of home dopplers will be a vital step towards that.”

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