Pregnancy Monitors and Pre-Natal Care
Baby Heartbeat Monitors
So, you’re about to experience the miracle of new birth, or know someone that is. Well, first I suppose congratulations are in order. Now, let’s talk about some specific pre-natal stuff you need to know, specifically, what the benefits to using a pre-natal heart monitor (often called a baby heartbeat monitor) are.
What is a pre-natal heart monitor? This is a device that allows you to listen to your baby’s heartbeat while still in the womb. It’s reassuring to know that your baby is doing well, and that the heartbeat is strong. If you learn what the heartbeat should sound like, you can let your doctor know early if the heartbeat doesn’t sound right, or if there is an anomaly. Sometimes, the pre-natal monitor will even have an interface for your telephone so the doctor can hear the baby’s heartbeat first hand.
Another feature that many pre-natal monitors offer is the ability to record the heartbeat, either to your computer or sometimes to your iPod or other devices. The most common use for this feature is send your baby’s heartbeat to your friends and family, but can also be used to listen more carefully for anomalies.
The embryonic heart begins beating around the fifth week of pregnancy, but it will be too small to hear, or even see in most cases on an ultrasound. It’s possible to see it on an ultrasound, as early as four weeks, and will be seen as a flickering in the chest, but in most cases you just won’t see or hear it yet.
Around nine or ten weeks you’ll be able to hear the heartbeat at your doctor’s office, using a Doppler instrument. This is similar to the pre-natal monitors that you can get at home, but more powerful, using sound waves that bounce off the heart to give you the heartbeat’s sound. Sometimes you can’t hear the heartbeat this early. It depends on the position of the uterus, how heavy you are, and whether the instrument is placed at the correct angle.
However, by the 12th week you’ll be able to hear the heartbeat at your pre-natal appointments for sure, with the amplification provided by the instrument your OB-GYN uses. To measure the heart rate, either count for a full minute or count for fifteen seconds and multiply the heartbeats by four. Your practitioner will know what the baby’s heartbeat should sound like and may not even count unless it doesn’t sound normal. It is common for the Doppler instrument to pick up the mother’s heartbeat instead of the fetus’ and your practitioner will be able to tell which is which. The mother’s heart rate should be under 100, and that baby’s will be over 120.
At about 20 weeks you’ll be able to hear the baby’s heartbeat without the Doppler amplification. This means that you can use the home pre-natal heart monitors to listen to your baby’s heartbeat, or sometimes an ordinary stethoscope, if you use the bell side. If you feel around the uterus the firm side will generally be the baby’s back, and this is often the best place to hear the heartbeat with a home monitor.
Something to keep in mind is that if you are carrying twins it will be extremely difficult for you to be able to listen to both heartbeats. In fact, sometimes even your doctor cannot ensure that they are hearing both heartbeats with the amplified Doppler and may have to do an ultrasound to make sure that both baby’s hearts are visible and beating.
The Doppler instruments for home use can run as much as $400 to $750 dollars if you buy them brand new, but places like online auction sites can get you a home fetal heartbeat monitor for as little as $50 or $100 bucks if you want to go that route.
Keep in mind, that listening to your baby’s heartbeat at home with a home fetal heartbeat monitoring device cannot match the precision and trained ear of your Ob-Gyn and that you may often hear things that sound anomalous or you may not be able to hear the baby’s heart beat at all. This is no cause for panic because 99.9 percent of the time this is from human error, and your baby is fine. Other things you may hear while listening to your heart beat is the sound of nutrients entering the placenta, the sound of your baby kicking (sounds like a soft thud) and your own heartbeat. You may also hear your baby’s hiccups.
Some of the features that you may want to look for if you are getting a home fetal monitoring device are:
- A mode to listen in both real time and a mode to average the baby’s heartbeats out over a certain period (say a minute)
- Easy to find replacement batteries such as AA or AAA.
- Headphone jack and sometimes included headphones
- Attachment to plug your heart monitor into various devices to record such as your computer, your iPod or other Mp3 device, or sometimes your telephone.
- LCD screen with a backlight
- Included Gel
- Included Instruction booklet
- Warranty (especially for used items)
Listening to your baby’s heartbeat can be a rewarding and even spiritual experience and one to be shared by family and friends, and a fetal heart monitor will give you hours of joy of listening to your baby’s heartbeat. Keep in mind however, that feeling the movements of your baby will give you the best indication of whether or not your baby is healthy and moving around. Do not rely on the fetal heart monitor to give you the best indication of whether or not your baby is healthy. This is best done by monitoring the movements your baby makes while in the womb, regular visits to your Ob-Gyn and supplemented by fetal heart monitoring devices at home.
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