What Are the Dangers of Fetal Doppler?

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A fetal doppler lets you monitor the heartbeat of your unborn child.
A fetal doppler lets you monitor the heartbeat of your unborn child. (Image: Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Alan Turkus)

If you’re an expectant parent, you may be interested in tracking the fetal development of your unborn child with a fetal doppler. These devices, which use ultrasound technology to listen to the fetal heartbeat, are increasing in popularity, and many parents rent or buy such a device for use at home. Before committing yourself to such an undertaking, you first should consider some of the dangers of such devices.

The Allure of Fetal Dopplers

The Fun Times Guide to Pregnancy points out that new features have been added to these devices to make them even more attractive to prospective parents. Some fetal dopplers offer a visual display of your unborn baby’s heart beats per minute, while others have a tiny speaker that allows more than one person to listen to the fetal heartbeat at the same time.

False Sense of Wellbeing

In an article on MedPage Today, Kristina Fiore reported on the case of a 34-year-old English woman who late in her pregnancy experienced a marked decline in fetal movement. However, she detected what she thought was a fetal heartbeat with her doppler. According to a study published in the Nov. 5, 2009, issue of BMJ (British Medical Journal), she put off seeking medical attention for a few days, at which point she no longer could detect a fetal heartbeat and went to the hospital. Doctors diagnosed intrauterine death and speculated that what she had earlier heard with the doppler was either her own placental flow or pulse.

Impact on Cell Division

Because fetal dopplers use ultrasound waves to detect the heartbeat of an unborn child, fears have been expressed that this ultrasound exposure could result in cell division problems, such as Irish researchers found in animal studies in the late 1990s. The Irish study, conducted by scientists at Dublin’s University College and cited on AlternaMoms Unite!, found that the rate of cell division in mice exposed to a 15-minute scan of 8 mHz was 22 percent below normal levels. However, since most fetal dopplers for home use produce an ultrasound scan of 2 to 3 mHz and are used for short durations, it’s doubtful that the Irish finding poses a significant concern for fetal doppler users.

Overuse

Another concern, according to the Fun Times Guide, is the temptation some expectant parents might feel to use the fetal doppler for hours on end. Although such devices do have FDA approval, it is assumed that they will be used reasonably, which means an occasional check to see that the unborn child is doing well.

Reliability

Fetal dopplers, particularly those sold or rented for home use, are not sophisticated diagnostic machines but rather fairly simple devices that allow expectant parents to monitor the heartbeat of their unborn child. The Fun Times Guide points out that these devices are not always reliable and, as such, can be a source of unnecessary anxiety, a point that prospective users should bear in mind.

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