When Can You Start Using An At-Home Doppler? An Expert Explains

As someone with anxiety, I totally get that you’d want to be able to check on your baby’s progress between visits and make sure you hear that little heartbeat. Recently, at-home dopplers have become more and more popular as a way for us anxiety-ridden gals to ease our fears a bit — or sometimes, unfortunately, make them worse if we can’t find the heartbeat. But when can you start using an at-home doppler? Even if you’re just excited and want to hear that thump, thump, thump, you need to know the best time.

Dr. Adrienne Zertuche, an OB-GYN at a division of Atlanta Women’s Healthcare Specialists, tells Romper, “At-home and in-office dopplers both work by sending ultrasound waves into the abdomen. The baby’s moving heart reflects these waves, and sends them back to the probe at different frequencies. The machine then detects these wave changes and transforms them into the sound you hear as a heartbeat.”

However, when it comes to using them yourself, Zertuche tells Romper she doesn’t recommend using an ultrasound doppler to listen at home. “If you do not have proper training in positioning the device, and you are unable to hear anything, it may result in unnecessary anxiety. Also, we cannot be 100 percent certain that the energy that is delivered to your baby via the doppler probe is entirely innocuous. It is best to let your obstetrician determine when, where, and how he or she will evaluate the status of your baby.”

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If you still are itching to do it at home because you just can’t wait, or you want to try to potentially quell your anxiety a bit (or make it worse if you can’t find the heartbeat), Zertuche says figuring out the stage of pregnancy when you'd be able to hear the heartbeat at home depends. “While it may vary based on the size of the baby, the position of the uterus, the placement of the placenta, and the size of the woman, your obstetrician will typically be able to hear the baby’s heartbeat via doppler beginning at 10 to 12 weeks gestation,” she says.

According to What To Expect, “Though at-home dopplers are considered safe to use, they're not as sophisticated as the one your practitioner uses — and most aren’t nearly sensitive enough to pick up the faint ‘lub-dub’ of your very teeny baby’s tiny heart until after the fifth month of pregnancy.” What To Expect also noted that even in later pregnancy, the baby’s position can throw off the doppler, and the readings may not be accurate.

If you do want to take a more active role in monitoring your baby between visits, Zertuche says to ask your doctor about “kick counts.” The American Pregnancy Association noted that as you learn your baby’s sleeping and waking cycles, you should set aside time every day to count the “kicks, swishes, rolls, and jabs” in order to help identify potential problems. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommended that you use the same time every day (when the baby is most active) to see how long it takes to feel 10 kicks, swishes, rolls, jabs — any kind of movement. Ideally, you’ll want to feel 10 within a two hour time frame.

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“If you have followed the above recommendations and have not felt 10 kicks by the end of the second hour, wait a few hours and try again. If after trying a second time, you do not feel 10 movements within two hours, you should contact your healthcare provider,” the APA suggested. Additionally, “if you notice a significant deviation from the pattern over the course of three to four days,” you should contact your healthcare provider.

While I definitely understand why you'd want to check it out at home, it can make your anxiety much worse trying to use an at-home doppler. Check in with your healthcare provider before buying one of these expensive devices and see what they have to say. But as always, it's your body and your decision.

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