This Popular At-Home Pregnancy Product Is Surprisingly Risky

You'd think that at-home fetal heart monitors would keep your not-yet-born baby safe, right? Not so much: Experts warn that these popular pregnancy products might be putting your baby at risk. In explaining why the heart rate monitors should be banned, it's less about any innate danger in the making of the devices and more about the manner that they're used; More often than not, they're not placed in the hands of professionals, so fetal dopplers can be dangerous when used by those without the proper working knowledge.

It isn't a new discovery that at-home heart monitors are risky, and yet they're still being put on the market. Walmart doppler models run as low as $17, promising a "portable, non-invasive, and user-friendly device allows you to hear your baby's heartbeat." Medical-grade fetal dopplers hovering around $200 can be bought online, though a major brand notes that the devices are just "intended for use by health care professionals in hospital, clinic, and private office settings." Seeing as they're honestly everywhere these days, what could be so harmful about them?

The problem is multi-faceted. On on end, obsession over searching for a heart beat can cause undue stress in a mother, which can lead to " raised blood pressure in the mother and premature births," Jane Munro of the Royal College of Midwives in London told The Daily Mail. On the flip side, the devices can be all too reassuring: "We've had cases where there has been something wrong with a baby," Munro explained, "and the mother has been wrongly reassured after hearing her own heartbeat, or the sound of blood pumping through the placenta, leading to a dangerous delay in her seeking medical attention. In at least one instance, sadly the baby died."

Truly, fetal dopplers are intended for use by professionals only, but it's sometimes just too tempting for moms who'd like to feel connected to their babies whenever, wherever. And it's super easy to overdo it. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that, when used at home, "The number of sessions or the length of a session in scanning a fetus is uncontrolled, and that increases the potential for harm to the fetus and eventually the mother." The organization concedes that more research needs to be done on the lasting effects of at-home use, but for now professionals warn that it's much better to be safe rather than sorry and abstain from at-home fetal heart monitors altogether.

At the end of the day, doctors know their stuff. Rather than self-monitor and diagnose at home, it's always better to inquire about the health of a baby if you have a concern (rather than assume that a $17 home kit can do the work instead). The experts concur: Fetal dopplers are a no-go, so just leave the heart-rate monitoring to the professionals.