Difficulty Hearing Baby's Heartbeat in Early Pregnancy

4 Reasons Why You May Not Hear Your Baby's Heartbeat Right Away

A prenatal care appointment in pregnancy

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One of the most exciting pregnancy milestones is hearing your baby's heartbeat for the first time. While most women can expect this to happen at their first prenatal visit (around weeks 9 to 12 of pregnancy), there are times when the sound of a fetal heartbeat may not be detected. It is true that silence on the other end of a stethoscope could mean that you're having a miscarriage. But there are also instances when this is not the case.

Reasons You May Not Hear Baby's Heartbeat

At your first prenatal visit (as long as you are at least eight or nine weeks along), your doctor or midwife may use a fetal Doppler stethoscope to pick up the sound of your baby's heart beating. It's important to acknowledge that not hearing the heartbeat when you expect it is a scary moment.

If you can, remember that there are many common, not-to-worry reasons a heartbeat can't be detected in early pregnancy. Knowing about them in advance may ease your anxiety. Some possibilities include the following.

It's Earlier in Your Pregnancy Than You Thought 

If your due date was calculated based on the first day of your last period, it may be that you aren't as far along as you thought—especially if your periods are irregular or you weren't certain when you last had one.

A faulty due date is one of the most common reasons a fetal heartbeat can't be detected.

It's likely your doctor will do an ultrasound, which is a more reliable way to measure the age of a pregnancy, or have you come back for a second visit sooner than you would otherwise (in two weeks instead of four, for example).​ A fetal heartbeat can be seen on an ultrasound before it can be heard on a Doppler.

You Have a Tilted Uterus

The way your uterus, or womb, is oriented in your pelvis can affect how easy it is for a stethoscope to pick up the sound of your baby's heartbeat. This is because a Doppler is directional, so when your doctor or midwife aims it where the uterus would typically be, it won't pick up any sounds inside since yours is placed slightly differently than most.

Your Baby Is Out of Range of Hearing

In early pregnancy, the baby is very small. In order to pick up the sound of the heartbeat, the Doppler will need to zoom in on the baby in just the right way. It sometimes takes a lot of patience and a bit of luck to find the baby and "catch" it via the Doppler. Be aware that the waiting time to hear the heartbeat while your practitioner is searching might seem like forever, even though in reality it will just be a few minutes.

You Are Overweight 

You would be considered overweight if you have a body mass index (BMI) of over 25. In this case, there is a layer of padding between your baby and the Doppler that could get in the way of picking up the sound. An alternative to using a Doppler stethoscope, in this case, is to do a transvaginal ultrasound, in which the ultrasound wand is inserted into the vagina for more direct access to the uterus.

Home Fetal Heartbeat Monitors

Over-the-counter fetal heartbeat monitors should not be used to indicate fetal health. If you are having trouble hearing your baby's heartbeat while using an at-home Doppler monitor while you are in the first few weeks of pregnancy, note that the device you are using is not the same grade and quality as the fetal Doppler stethoscopes that medical professionals use. An at-home monitor will not be as sensitive or project sound in the same way. Also, you may not quite know what kind of sound to actually listen for.

Home use of fetal doppler or ultrasound is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

A Word From Verywell

If at any time you're alarmed about why you may not be hearing your baby's heartbeat, particularly if you are at high risk for miscarriage or are experiencing related symptoms, don't hesitate to contact your doctor or midwife. There is no shame in being overly cautious when it comes to the health of your baby.

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