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Home Fetal Heart Monitors Are Risky

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Be careful -- having one of these monitors doesn't guarantee your baby's safety.

pregnant woman belly

Ronda Kaysen: Companies selling home fetal heart monitors lure buyers with promises that having a monitor at home will give a mother peace of mind that her baby is alive and kicking in the womb.

"Whether you are facing a high-risk pregnancy or just want the reassurance that your baby is happy and safe, you will find comfort in monitoring your baby's heartbeat with the convenience of having your own Fetal Doppler-Baby Heart Monitor by your side," says the Belly Beats website.

Heartbeats at Home boasts: "Our Fetal Heart Monitors are simply the best way to gain the assurance and peace of mind every pregnant woman desires, especially during a high-risk pregnancy."

But it's just that added sense of security that has doctors in Britain worried that a heart monitor makes moms relaxed when they should be on high alert.

The New York Times picked up a story published at by two British doctors. They used this cautionary tale to warn pregnant women about the risks of home monitors:

A 34-year-old pregnant woman was 38 weeks pregnant when her baby stopped moving on a Friday. She'd had an uneventful pregnancy, and so when she heard what she thought was a heartbeat on her home monitor, she put her fears aside and spent the weekend at home. On Monday, when she went to the doctor, she learned that the baby had died. Had she gone to the doctor sooner, the outcome might have been different.

Dr. Abhijoy Chakladar and Dr. Hazel Adams, both of the Princess Royal Hospital in Britain, caution that an untrained ear can easily mistake the sound of blood flowing or amniotic fluid swishing about for a heartbeat, and a monitor alone cannot pick up all the signs of fetal distress.

"This is something that comes only with experience," Dr. Chakladar told the New York Times. "In a hospital, fetal health is assessed by experienced midwives and doctors who take a team approach."

I never used a monitor at home when I was pregnant -- it seemed so over the top to me. But it never occurred to me that more information would make me less safe. I'd love to hear from moms who did use a monitor when they were pregnant. Why did you get one? Did it affect how often you checked in with your doctor? Why did you get one?

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9 comments so far | Post a comment now
Sara November 12, 2009, 6:57 AM

I rented one from an online company during my last pregnancy and after a late miscarriage during the previous pregnancy that peace of mind is what I needed in the early weeks before I could feel the baby frequently moving. If we had more children I would rent another one without a doubt.

KRAE November 12, 2009, 12:04 PM

I spent the money on one w/ my first daughter and gave it away b/c it didnt work. It would pick up other sounds, but not the babys and the room had to be totally quite to be able to hear something

Sara November 12, 2009, 5:06 PM

There are online companies that offer fetal monitors for rent that are just like the ones the doctor uses. That’s what I used. Picked up the heartbeat at home as early as the doctor was able to in the office. Loved it!

Nikki November 13, 2009, 12:35 AM

If you just read the reviews of the at home ones you will see they don’t work. One woman said they put it on her husband and heard the same sounds. and they couldn’t really tell what sounds they were picking up when trying to listen to there baby. If you don’t feel movement go to the Dr. Lucky for me I never had that worry, my son constantly hiccuped and kicked my bladder.

kd November 13, 2009, 3:06 AM

I used fetal monitors in both my pregnancies that went to term, and the main reason was that I had serious anxiety due to three previous miscarriages. But I only used them during the first half of my pregnancy before I could feel movement, just to reassure myself that the heart was still beating. After I could feel movement regularly, I sent the monitor back (it was a rental). I do think it’s important that women are aware of proper use of monitors in later pregnancy and know to inform a doctor right away if the baby isn’t moving as much as usual. I suspect that’s why you’re supposed to have a doctor’s approval to rent one. But in the first part of pregnancy, these monitors can be extremely reassuring for moms who have miscarried in the past.

Jenn November 13, 2009, 4:00 PM

I, too, suffered a late miscarriage my first pregnancy. When I became pregnant again, I needed reassurance that the baby was okay, until I could feel her kicking and didn’t need the monitor any longer. It gave me complete peace of mind, and worked just like the one in my obgyn’s office. I would definitely get one again my next pregnancy.

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dion February 23, 2011, 8:04 PM

Risky is too strong a word. these devices give mothers peace of mind, but they shouldn’t be a replacement for regular visits to your doctor.

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