Should You Use a Home Doppler During Pregnancy?

Should you use a home doppler in pregnancy? Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or a doctor of any kind. If you are pregnant, I encourage you to discuss home doppler use with your care provider if you have questions. And, happy pregnancy! 

The use of home dopplers has swelled in recent year. I frequently see people asking about them in my Facebook groups or selling them. If you do a search for them, you return many brands to buy. But, is this new trend helpful or even safe?

Home doppler use has grown in recent years. For many women, early appointments are far and few between. For others, a fear of miscarriage or stillbirth is what persuades them to rent or buy a home doppler. But is there any evidence that they are helpful? Anecdotally, women report to other women that they eased their anxiety. But are they helpful?

The short answer? No. At best, a home doppler can provide reassurance that baby is okay. But, on the flip side of that, since you are not a trained medical provider, the reassurance could be a false reassurance. And the home doppler itself does not do anything to prevent miscarriage or stillbirth. In fact, if you choose not to seek medical help based on a false reassurance, it can actually be extremely dangerous. Like UK Charity Kicks Count points out, if someone collapsed in the street, would you think they were okay just because you could feel a pulse? Or would you call for help? But frequently, women hear a heartbeat and are reassured enough to think that there’s no danger.

One such case was recorded in the peer-reviewed journal The BMJ (British Medical Journal). You can read it here, but they discuss the sad case of an unexplained stillbirth where the woman presented three days after she had felt decreased movement but had convinced herself that it was fine due to detecting a “fetal heartbeat” which may actually have been placental blood flow or her own heartbeat. They concluded, “Obstetric services need to educate expectant mothers about the limitations and the potentially fatal consequences of untrained use of fetal heart monitors and to present clear guidance about when to seek medical review.”

Of course, the devices are essentially same as the doppler doctors use. And I don’t write this post because I think that doppler waves are in any way dangerous. Just that misuse of this technology can cause anxiety and provide false reassurances. Those false reassurances can lead to not seeking help from a qualified medical professional in time. Ultrasound and dopplers are considered some of the safest technology out there. So the risks they pose are not inherent, but instead, the risks that they pose come from their misuse. That and, while we believe they are safe now, we can not entirely rule out that later we may find more info. I am not trying to be all dopplers and ultrasounds are terrible for you. I truly do not believe that. Just that it is often a common pattern that later on we find out more info about something we previously thought was safe. This is why limiting ultrasound and doppler use to what is necessary medically is important. When it’s medically necessary the benefits outweigh the risks. However, in the case of home use, the benefits, in my opinion, do not outweigh the risks.

The FDA has even warned against them (and keepsake ultrasounds – another post for another day, perhaps?). It’s not that I see the FDA as the be all and end all. However, I do think their concerns, in this case, are legitimate. To quote,

“When the product is purchased over the counter and used without consultation with a health care professional taking care of the pregnant woman, there is no oversight of how the device is used. Also, there is little or no medical benefit expected from the exposure,” Vaezy says. “Furthermore, 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.”

And Kicks Count (mentioned above) actually believes that such devices should be banned and quite frankly, I do as well. I see this as another way that manufacturers choose to prey on women who have reasonable anxieties about childbirth and pregnancy. Instead of offering them evidence based support, they push a product that costs money and can not help in the long run. Similarly to how makers of infant cardio-respiratory monitors prey on parents’ fears of SIDS and offer monitors that can not help or prevent SIDS and encourage risky behavior.*

Unfortunately, there are too many moms who feel that their own use of a home doppler contributed to not seeking help in time. I admire their courage because it does take courage to admit that you made a mistake. It’s impossible to tell if acting earlier would have changed the outcome. However, they have to live with that what if for the rest of their life.

The bottom line is, dopplers are a medical device. Without proper training in not only using the Doppler but how to interpret the results and what’s worrying and what’s not, you are putting you and your baby at risk. A better alternative if you are worried is to discuss with your care provider. Ask them what you should look for and what a good course of action would be. That money can definitely be better spent elsewhere.

Did you use a doppler during pregnancy? If so, how do you feel about the concerns I’ve raised here? 

*I don’t think I’ve done a blog post on this, but if you want to hear more of my thoughts on cardio-respiratory monitors like the Snuza, Owlet, etc, you can check out this episode of the podcast I co-host at Precious Little Sleep. 

By Harmid (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Post a comment

CommentLuv badge