Between the butterflies in your stomach and the beautiful baby in your belly, it might be getting a little crowded down there.
It is just about the end of your first trimester, 12 weeks or so into your pregnancy. Your OB-GYN is about to use a fetal doppler to listen for your baby’s heartbeat. A rush of glee and anxiety fills your veins as you await the sound of your little one’s heartbeat for the first time.
At this point, you must remember: every woman’s body is different, and every child’s development is unique. That means it’s very difficult to determine exactly at what point you’ll be able to hear your baby’s heart beat. On average, however, most doctors will check by 12 weeks.
Hearing the Fetal Heartbeat in the Office
In some cases, obstetricians will check for a fetal heartbeat at week 8 of your pregnancy. As your doctor will indicate, there is no need to panic if no heartbeat is detected. Often your baby just needs some time to get a bit bigger to make his heart heard (you try growing from the size of a blueberry to the size of a kiwi in just six weeks)!
Fewer than 12 weeks may be too early to hear a heartbeat using the fetal doppler, so your obstetrician may choose to conduct a more sensitive ultrasound test to ensure that everything is going smoothly with your baby’s development.
When to Use a Home Doppler Device
Most moms report hearing their baby’s heartbeats at home with an at-home doppler between 9 and 14 weeks. That leaves a solid gap of five weeks during which you may be stressing about your baby getting behind, about 150 weeks before they’ll be in preschool.
There is a lot of variability between women as to when you can hear the heartbeat for the first time using a doppler. This variability potentially comes from a couple different sources:
Your baby’s body may just not be positioned the right way in order to hear her heartbeat. The doppler effect needs to be able to zero in on the source of the sound just so, which could become difficult when your baby is not feeling ready for karaoke night.
Sometimes the probe might be too high a frequency to penetrate through the layers of your skin. If you’re overweight, it may be more difficult for the doppler to pick up the ultrasound waves from your baby’s heart. Take comfort in knowing that baby’s got a nice and secure home in your womb.
Your placenta could also be interfering with the sound waves in their transmission to your heartbeat monitor. Another obstacle might be if you’re like 1 in 5 women and you’ve got a tilted uterus.
Not to worry. All these normal anatomical variances have no effect on your or your baby’s health during pregnancy. However, they could make it a bit more difficult to find your baby as he’s tucked away a bit further from the scope of an ultrasound.
Beyond these factors, it might actually just be earlier than you expected in your pregnancy. Especially if you calculated your due date based on the first day of your last period, an ultrasound can clear up the age of your pregnancy. Expect a second prenatal visit after a couple weeks if you’re unsure about your due date.
Tips for Hearing the Fetal Heartbeat
Despite the factors that may make it more difficult to hear your baby’s heartbeat, there are certain best practices that should be followed when using a fetal doppler to increase the probability of successfully finding your little one’s heart.
1. Medical grade
First off, remember that your home device is not going to replace your doctor’s professional equipment and expertise. While many medically reviewed home dopplers work very well, it’s just not the medical grade quality that you can expect from your OB-GYN.
2. Apply gel liberally
Ultrasound gel is not just meant to make your belly cold. It is essential for the ultrasound waves to be able to travel unobstructed by any excess air. Without the gel, you’ll be hearing a lot of static, which is not to be confused with your baby’s heart. You can always replenish your gel here.
3. Higher probe-ability
Earlier in your pregnancy, you’ll want to place the probe below your belly button and closer to your pubic bone. Slowly drag the probe along your abdomen until you hear a heartbeat.
Make sure to get in the right position prior to using the doppler, stretching your uterus as far forward as you can. Having a full bladder can also help push your uterus up, thus positioning your baby closer to the probe.
While there are lots of variables at play, most women hear their baby’s heartbeat for the first time around 12 weeks in. You might be able to hear his beats per minute at 8 weeks - or it might be 15 weeks.
That being said, you shouldn’t be worried if you don’t find a heartbeat immediately. It takes some time to get acquainted with your doppler and for your doppler to get used to you. If you still can’t hear a heartbeat after a couple minutes of trying, put it aside for now, and try it again another day.
A final word: don’t be discouraged! Ask your doctor for help if you are facing any challenges with your fetal doppler. And when you finally do hear those first little gallops, remember to treasure the moment.
Is there any more precious moment than this?