How to Listen to Your Baby's Heartbeat

Listening to the baby's heart beat in pregnancy
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Listening to your baby's heartbeat is a special part of your pregnancy. Many women find this to be the best moment of their prenatal care appointments. You can hear your baby's heartbeat at your prenatal visit, but you can also do so at home. There are some quick and simple solutions that are safe for baby and mom, as well as some that doctors suggest you avoid.

For some families, listening to baby's heartbeat at home will provide reassurance between prenatal appointments. For others, it's merely a way of bonding with the baby. Children and partners often love this and look forward to it. Plus, it's easy enough for even a small child to do.

Overview

Here is a quick look at the most common devices that you can use to try to listen to your baby's heartbeat during your pregnancy.

Product Ease of Use When It Works Cost
Stethoscope Average 18 to 22 Weeks $10 to $80
Fetoscope Average 18 to 22 Weeks $25 to $90
Pinard Horn Complicated 18 to 22 Weeks $25 to $300
Amplifiers Complicated Depends $20 to $30
Doppler Depends 8+ Weeks $150+
Fetal Monitor Professional Use Only 20+ Weeks Professional Use Only

The easiest and least expensive route is the stethoscope or fetoscope. The stethoscope is more widely available, but the fetoscope is specially designed for listening to babies, making it a bit easier to hear the heartbeat.

Stethoscope

The stethoscope is a common medical tool used to amplify internal noises, especially for the heart and lungs. This trusty device is also good for listening to babies in utero.

You can hear the baby's heartbeat at about 18 to 20 weeks, depending on factors like mom's weight, baby's position, and the location of the placenta.

You can purchase a stethoscope at most drugstores, many uniform stores that cater to medical personnel, or any medical supply store. How well you can hear with it varies widely with the quality of the product.

Interestingly, many practitioners, doctors, and midwives have lost the skill of using a normal stethoscope for this purpose as technology has advanced.

Pinard Horn

The Pinard horn, made out of wood, is an older fetal listening device. Its flat end is placed on the ear of the practitioner while the horn part is used to move around the pregnant mother's abdomen. This is used to listen directly to the baby through the mother's body with no use of electricity or power.

The Pinard horn can be used from about 18 to 20 weeks of pregnancy. It is also no longer as commonly used at prenatal care appointments.

Fetoscope

The fetoscope is the modern combination of the stethoscope and the Pinard horn. It is designed to be used on pregnant women and uses the practitioner's forehead to conduct sound, which often gives better results.

It does not use ultrasound. There are a couple of different varieties of fetoscopes, including some that fit over the head for ease of use for the practitioner. It has a more modern look, being made of metal and plastic.

Some practitioners like to use this at every visit starting from week 12, though many won't hear the heartbeat that early. Using this device takes skill, but experienced practitioners can differentiate what they are listening to. The sound of the baby's heartbeat sounds like a watch under a pillow, while the placenta produces more of a whooshing sound.

Fetal Doppler Stethoscope

The fetal Doppler uses ultrasound technology to bounce sound waves off the baby and return a representation of the fetal heartbeat. Some specialized devices can be used as early as eight weeks, though 12 weeks into pregnancy is a more normal time frame. The sound is usually that of galloping horses.

Most prenatal care appointments will use the Doppler. This device can be used by doctors or midwives.

There are companies that sell or rent fetal Dopplers for home use during pregnancy. However, home use is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Fetal Monitor

The fetal monitor is sometimes used in prenatal care, but it's more common for practitioners to use it for late pregnancy fetal surveillance, like during the non-stress test or during labor. It also has the ability to monitor contractions.

The monitor can be used with an external monitor or with an internal fetal monitor. It uses ultrasound technology and requires someone to stay with the machine while it operates. Your doctor or midwife may have an old electronic fetal monitoring machine in their office simply to do these tests.

Is Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring Safe?

This is a complicated question. Using the stethoscope, fetoscope, or Pinard horn poses no physical risks. A home fetal Doppler can potentially cause harm if overused, and it is not recommended by the FDA. The use of a fetal monitor is typically confined to the hospital or medical practice setting.

With any of these tools, there is a potential risk of emotional or psychological harm. This comes into play when you don't hear the baby's heartbeat or when it is difficult to find. This may seem innocuous, but it can cause undue stress, which is not good for you in pregnancy.

A Word From Verywell

Listening to your baby's heartbeat can be comforting for many expectant parents. Sometimes you may want to try to listen to your baby between prenatal care visits. Talk to your practitioner about the safety and accuracy of the methods available so that you don't cause yourself more anxiety than necessary.

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