The Best Guide to Using a Fetal Doppler


This is an ultimate guide to using a baby fetal doppler in pregnancy. In this article we discuss the purpose and use of the at-home fetal Doppler device (Doppler that can be purchased from most retailers, Walmart, Target, Amazon, CVS, etc) and ways to monitor a developing baby. 

 

Pregnancy is an incredibly special time in a mother’s life. It's when a mother first starts to connect with and build a relationship with her baby. Early in the pregnancy, it can be difficult to build that connection and make sure that all is okay.


During the early months of pregnancy, it’s not possible to feel the baby move and this can cause concern. A healthy heartbeat in the early weeks of pregnancy is associated with a significantly lower likelihood of pregnancy loss.


People with a history of infertility, stillbirth, or pregnancy loss, in particular, may find that the reassuring sound of a fetal heartbeat can ease anxiety. 
Regular fetal monitoring from your prenatal care practitioner is important to ensure the baby is in good health. These appointments are exciting, and it can be tempting to share those visits and experiences with family and friends. Unfortunately waiting rooms in doctors’ offices can be small, and often can’t accommodate large families, or usually more than 2 people per visit. Fetal Dopplers are a great way to help pregnant mothers ease anxiety and connect with their baby at home. 

What is a Fetal Doppler?

A fetal Doppler is a portable device that is used to listen to and monitor a baby’s heartbeat. The Doppler Effect creates an apparent upward shift in the frequency of a sound wave to amplify the sound of a baby’s heartbeat. It’s important to note that it doesn’t actually change the frequency of the sound. 

The best way to explain this principle in reality is to notice the high pitch sound of an approaching ambulance siren. As the siren passes by, the pitch of the siren drops. 

Similarly, a fetal doppler will amplify the sound of a baby’s heartbeat when the probe approaches the baby’s umbilical artery.

The outcome is similar to a stethoscope, but the benefit of using a doppler is that multiple people can hear the output, and the heartbeat can be detected earlier in the pregnancy. 

Fetal Dopplers are used by medical professionals globally, however the Neeva Fetal Doppler is appropriate for use at home. Dopplers are commonly used in clinics to detect the fetal heart rate. The devices available in clinics are highly advanced and have a subsequently high cost. Clinical dopplers can range anywhere from ~$500 - $700+. The Neeva Fetal Doppler employs the same technological principles, but with reduced complexities. This allows the Doppler to be available to mothers without cost as a barrier. 

The Neeva Doppler requires AA batteries and comes with ultrasound gel, headphones and a 2Mz probe. It has an LCD display that displays the fetal heart rate, and the sound can be through the speaker or headphones. It’s important to note that the Neeva Doppler only ‘listens’ to sound and doesn’t transmit any kind of signals.

This image explains all functions of the Neeva Baby Fetal Doppler, the best at-home pocket fetal doppler available.

When Can I Start Using a Fetal Doppler?

During week 6 of pregnancy the baby’s heart and circulatory system will start forming. The earlier along you are, the harder it will be to hear the baby’s heartbeat with a Doppler. Most women report hearing the heartbeat between weeks 9 and 14, depending on the position of the baby in the womb. It’s important to note that every woman’s body is different and babies shift frequently during pregnancy, these factors may affect when you hear the heartbeat.

How Do At-Home Dopplers Work?

Medical practitioners, especially OB- GYNs go through significant training to identify a fetal heartbeat. While we do our best to educate our Neeva Mommies community, we always recommend you seek any medical advice from your healthcare practitioner.

Getting Started with a Doppler

Plug the probe into the bottom of the device. Insert AA batteries into the back compartment of the Neeva Fetal Doppler. Press the middle power button to turn on the LCD Display. Make sure you have your Aquasonic Clear Gel nearby and some tissue for cleanup later.

Get in Position

Start by lying down or sitting in a comfortable position and pushing your uterus as far forward as you can. Having a full bladder can help, especially if your doctor has told you that you have a tilted uterus (in this case you may not even hear the heartbeat at all).

Use Lots of Gel

A sample size of lubrication gel comes with your Doppler. You can always purchase more here.  Gel is important to use with the Doppler because it allows for a clear sound. Without gel, the Doppler will not work, the waves travel through air and the interference will cause a static. The gel is used to minimize air between the doppler’s probe and skin to provide the best, most clear sound. If your gel has bubbles in it, you might still hear static. 

Don’t rub into the belly like a moisturizer. Instead apply two dollops directly onto the belly and use the probe to spread it.

Position the Probe

The further along you are in your pregnancy, the higher up your baby will be positioned. If you’re earlier along, start by placing the probe below your belly button and closer to your pubic bone. 

The pubic bone is a large hard bone right in front of your bladder in the middle of your abdomen. Finding a baby’s heartbeat on a doppler requires a rocking motion of the probe. The best way to find the heartbeat is to start low and go slow. Don’t press down on the probe, gently angle it at 45* produces the best result.

Drag along your abdomen until you hear a heartbeat. It’s important to move slowly and in small movements, otherwise you can miss the heartbeat. Remember the way a doppler works is it amplifies sound when it’s nearby and minimizes it as you move further away.

Cleaning a Fetal Doppler

It’s important to clean the Doppler directly after use to ensure there is no residual gel left on the probe. Use tissues to wipe the gel off your belly and the probe. Do not use water or cleaning products to clean the Doppler. The probe is water resistant, however not waterproof. It is not intended for home births.

The Neeva Baby Fetal Doppler Set Up Guide explains step-by-step what you need to get started and how to find a baby's heartbeat with an at-home fetal doppler.

Detecting a Fetal Heart Rate  

Earlier in this guide we explained how to best use the Doppler for a clear sound. Here are some helpful videos to understand what different sounds the Doppler can pick up. 

 

Fetal Blood Flow Sounds 

Around week 6 the baby’s circulatory system starts forming. These sounds can be detected as blood flows throughout the baby, but it’s important to note that this is not the fetal heartbeat sound.

Placental Sounds 

Placenta is an organ that the female body manifests during pregnancy. It provides nutrients for a growing baby. Many report that the sound is similar to the wind in the trees, or a whooshing noise. 

Fetal Movement Sounds 

Babies shift frequently so you could be detecting this movement

Fetal Heartbeat Sound 

The heartbeat will sound differently depending on how far along you are in the pregnancy. This sound is typically reported as being similar to a galloping horse.

Neeva Baby Fetal Doppler Modes of Use  

This image explains the modes of use for the Neeva Baby Fetal Doppler. There are 3 modes of operation. Mode 1 - Real-Time Fetal Heart Rate Display. Mode 2 - Average FHR Display. Mode 3 - Manual Mode.

Using a Doppler for Twins

If you’re pregnant with twins, a Doppler will be able to identify two unique heartbeats. For a twin or multiple pregnancy, it’s best to discuss with whomever provides your prenatal care what real-time FHR (Fetal Heart Rate) or FHR average you should be aware of. 

In the case of twin pregnancies, health care professionals will use Doppler findings to make decisions on the future course of a multiple pregnancy and used for fetal diagnosis and therapy.

How Often Is it Safe to Use a Fetal Doppler?

As long as you’re not using a fetal doppler too often, the device is perfectly safe.The Neeva Doppler is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Health Canada. 

If the heartbeat is not detectable within 1 - 2 minutes, do not keep trying. Limit your use to once every other day for about 5 minutes. The reason for this is to limit exposure to medical technology although there has been no known impact of prolonged exposure to ultrasound technology.

It’s important to also know what to look for - a baby’s heartbeat ranges between approximately 110-160 Beats Per Minute (BPM) and may sound like a horse galloping. If you are picking up a lower reading, it could be your own heartbeat which might be closer to 90 BPM.
 
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada guidelines for fetal doppler use suggest that Dopplers are beneficial for women diagnosed with high risk pregnancies and placental insufficiency. They recommend that Doppler measurements be interpreted by expert operators as they’re knowledgeable about the significance of Doppler changes. 

The Neeva Doppler is meant to be used as a device to connect and check in on your baby at home. It can help supplement fetal monitoring at home and helps pregnant women ease anxiety during pregnancy. Anxiety in pregnancy is associated with shorter gestation and can have adverse implications for fetal development. 

It’s critical to note that home Doppler should never replace a medical professional

Tips for Finding Fetal Heartbeat With a Doppler

Detecting sound doesn’t mean you’ve found the baby’s heartbeat. It could be sound within the placenta, surrounding organs, or your own heartbeat. Check out our Tips for Using a Fetal Doppler.

Not Hearing your Baby’s Heartbeat?

If you’ve recently purchased one and can’t find the heartbeat with a home doppler, it could be too early to detect the heartbeat, or the baby is not in an ideal position to detect sound. If you can’t hear the heartbeat within 1 - 2 minutes of using the device, it’s best to try back another time.

If you don’t hear the baby’s heartbeat it could be for other reasons not listed here. Always consult your prenatal care practitioner for any medical advice.


Potential reasons you could can’t hear the baby’s heartbeat:

Your Baby is Out of Range of Hearing

Keep in mind that the earlier you start using the doppler the smaller your baby is. At 9 weeks your baby is the size of a cherry! Your body also expands your uterus to make room for the rapid growth that’s about to begin inside you. This can make it difficult for some women to hear their baby because the doppler will need to be positioned in just the right way. 


You have a Tilted Uterus

Where your uterus is located in your body can affect how the doppler picks up sound. The best way to hear your baby’s heartbeat is by pointing the doppler just below your pubic bone as that is generally where the womb is located. For some women, this is not the case, so the doppler won’t pick up sound if it’s placed slightly differently than most. 

 

You have Extra Tissue

If you are overweight (your Body Mass Index is above 25) there is an extra layer of tissue between the baby and the doppler that can get in the way of a good sound reading. Instead of hearing the fetal heartbeat which might be around 110-160 BPM, you might pick up your heartbeat instead. The average resting heart rate for an adult healthy woman is under 90 BPM.

Fetal Doppler Proper Use

Using a Doppler can be a great way to check in on baby development from the comfort of home. It’s an effective tool to help ease anxiety for pregnant women. It’s important to follow the guidelines and instructions for use above to ensure proper care and use of your Neeva Doppler. For high risk pregnancies it can be especially helpful for recording and sending fetal heart rate information to your health care practitioner. We always recommend visiting your health care practitioner for any medical advice.