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How to use a fetal heart rate monitor

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you have an electronic fetal heart rate monitor, also known as a fetal Doppler, you can check your baby's heartbeat during your pregnancy. The fetal Doppler gives you an opportunity to connect with your baby by listening to his or her heartbeat. It does not give a medical diagnosis. The monitor measures your baby's heartbeat and how it changes when your baby moves. Normally, a baby's heart beats very fast during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (first trimester). But the heartbeat is hard to detect because the baby is very small. As the fetus grows, the heartbeat settles into a normal range of 110 to 160 beats per minute. Your doctor typically uses a fetal Doppler during clinic visits to help provide reassurance that your baby is doing well. If you are being monitored at home, your health care team may ask you to check your baby's heart rate there.

To use the monitor, you'll start by feeling your abdomen to find your baby's position. Place a small amount of gel (Doppler gel only) on the probe at the end of the monitor. Then put the probe on your lower abdomen, near your pubic bone. Angle or tilt the probe, keeping contact between your skin and the probe at all times, until you hear a galloping sound — the fetal heart rate. Log the fetal heart rate as instructed by your health care team. Note that the numbers may change slightly as you continue to listen. You can adjust the probe position as needed to find the best heart signal. Avoid using the fetal Doppler for longer than 10 minutes.

After you've logged the fetal heart rate measurements, your doctor will review the results. Rarely, problems with a baby's heart rate are detected that need further monitoring or treatment. Fetal heart rate monitoring doesn't pose any physical risks for you or your baby. But you may feel anxious if your baby's heart rate is outside of the normal range. Talk to your health care provider if your measurements are out of range, or if you have concerns or questions about monitoring the fetal heart rate at home.

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