In an era where technology has made monitoring health easier than ever, the accessibility of medical devices once reserved for healthcare professionals has increased.

One such device, the fetal doppler, allows you to listen to your baby's heartbeat at home. While the allure of bonding with your unborn baby and reassurance during pregnancy is understandable, the use of fetal dopplers outside of a clinical setting can pose significant risks.

Fetal dopplers detect and amplify the sound of the fetal heartbeat - and other sounds. However, despite their widespread availability, these devices are not without dangers. At Kicks Count, we always encourage informed decisions - so here's a couple of things to consider:

Lack of Training and Expertise

This isn't us trying to insult anyone who isn't a midwife or doctor! Operating a fetal doppler requires knowledge and expertise to correctly identify and interpret baby's heartbeat. There are many noises you could be hearing, including your placenta, especially if you have an anterior placenta. Healthcare professionals undergo extensive training to use dopplers accurately, and differentiate sounds. In contrast, anyone using a doppler at home may misinterpret sounds, leading to either unnecessary panic or false reassurance. Without the guidance of a midwife or doctor, there's a risk of missing critical signs that indicate potential complications.

False Reassurance and Delayed Medical Intervention

This is an important one - one of the most significant dangers of using a home doppler is the false sense of security they can give. If you're worried enough that you're trying to reassure yourself with a doppler, that's always enough of a reason to call your Maternity Unit. Just like it doesn't necessarily mean something's wrong if you can't find a heartbeat, hearing a heartbeat alone doesn't guarantee that there aren't complications or fetal distress either. 

Vickie's heartbreaking story serves as a poignant reminder of this. Sensing a change in her daughter Evie's movements, she turned to her home doppler for reassurance, something she'd used many times throughout her pregnancy. Convinced she'd heard a heartbeat, and despite her continued concerns, she delayed speaking to her maternity unit and clung to the false sense of security provided by the doppler. Sadly, Evie was later stillborn. As a stillbirth prevention charity, we're determined to help ensure this doesn't happen to others. Vickie is too - reflecting on her experience, she urges other families to ditch home dopplers, stressing the importance of seeking professional medical care - always.

Overall, the NHS, The Royal College of Midwives and even the FDA (Food and Drug Administration in America) all warn of these dangers. The NHS choices website says home foetal heart monitors “are potentially dangerous to the mother and baby’s health”, while the RCM website says: “Expectant mothers have been warned against the use of home fetal Doppler devices over fears that they may give false reassurances to mothers about the health of their baby.”

So, what should I do if I notice reduced movement?

If you think your baby’s movements have slowed down or stopped, contact your maternity unit straight away. Midwives and doctors are there to help you - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

  • Don't put off calling until the next day or wait until your next scheduled appointment.

  • Don't worry about phoning, it's important for your doctors and midwives to know if your baby’s movements have slowed down or stopped. They'll be happy to hear from you.

Should I prompt my baby to move?

As it can cause a delay in getting medical advice, trying to make your baby move isn't recommended. If your baby's movements are concerning you, always call your maternity unit.

If my baby's movements change does it mean my baby is definitely unwell?

Not at all. Checks by medical professionals usually find that everything is OK. Most women who report one or less episodes of reduced movement go on to have a healthy baby and straightforward pregnancy.

However, it's important to be checked to make sure the change isn't because your baby is one of the few that are unwell. Reporting concerns about your baby's movements could save their life.

Learn more about baby's movements