Here at Sweet Beats, we’ve worked out over time the most common mistakes that mums and dads-to-be make when using a fetal doppler at home. Although we always try to prepare you for it to be a learning curve on the first few goes, we understand that not finding your baby’s heartbeat with your doppler can cause anxiety. To try and get you off to a good start, here are our top tips for what not to do when using your doppler:
1. Moving the doppler probe around too much, rather than just angling it
This would be the most common error that people make when using a fetal doppler at home. Moving the doppler probe across the surface of your belly into different areas generally just means you keep passing over your baby’s heart and don’t find it.
Imagine you’re standing at the entrance of a room, armed with a penlight, and you need to find your keys. The best way to find them is not to walk around the room swinging the flashlight beam. More effective would be to stand in the doorway, and slowly change the direction of the beam so you’re searching methodically. Make sense?
So… in this analogy, your belly is the room, the doppler probe is the penlight and your bub’s heart is the keys! Move too fast and you’ll miss the heart altogether. Find a place nice and low, near your pubic bone, and then methodically change the slant of the probe by small increments (try pointing down towards your feet if you’re early on). Don’t move on til you’re sure you haven’t found it.
Using a fetal doppler make small changes in the angle of the probe, rather than moving it across your belly
2. Using too much ultrasound gel
The ultrasound gel provided with your doppler should really last you a couple of months, depending of course on how often you’re using a fetal doppler. Don’t squeeze loads of gel onto your belly, and definitely don’t smear or rub it all over your belly like a moisturising cream. Just put a glob of gel on the end of the probe.
If you find your doppler gets very crackly or there’s a lot of static, it can be because there’s too much air trapped in the gel and the ultrasound isn’t able to pass effectively to the doppler. If this is very bad, just make a mental note for next time to be gentle with the gel. Which brings us to our next point…
3. You don’t need to press down hard with the doppler probe
It can be tempting to press the probe into your abdomen in your hunt to find your baby’s heartbeat when using a fetal doppler. Don’t. It won’t help at all, and it can actually make it more difficult to make the small changes in angle that can help you come upon the heartbeat. It is also likely to reduce the quality of the ultrasound gel transmission and cause wastage of the gel. Just touch the probe gently against your skin. If you’re indenting the surface of your skin, you’re probably pressing too hard. Using a doppler is about angle, not gusto ;).
4. You’re worried that the doppler’s digital reading is jumping around
This is normal – the number displayed on the doppler will jump around until the doppler has a very good fix on the heartbeat. Although you may be able to hear the heartbeat , if the display is still jumping around, then the fix is not good enough for the doppler software to calculate an accurate fetal heartrate. It needs to be fixed on the heartbeat for a good 10-15 seconds so it can calculate the heartrate (kind of similar to how a nurse or doctor takes your heartrate, right? they count how many beats in 10 seconds). Ignore the display until you can clearly hear the heartbeat, then wait for the doppler to calculate the heartbeat rate of bub.
Using a fetal doppler wait until the doppler has a good fix before reading the display
5. You’re worried, full-stop
The first couple of times you’re using a fetal doppler, just look at it as a trial run. Do not get anxious about not finding the heartbeat. Hopefully the tips that came with your doppler and the information in this post will really help, but if you’re still finding it hard to find the heartbeat and getting anxious, then maybe take a break and try later. Bub may move, your bladder may fill, and you will probably be better at it next time. Once you have the hang of using your doppler, you will find it reassuring and hopefully a fun thing to share with family and friends, but remember that the first time you try, you just won’t be very good at it! Stay relaxed, lie on the couch and watch tv while you experiment, and come back to it later if it’s taking a while. If you get anxious, just send it back. If you need help, just ask.
What if I can’t hear my baby’s heartbeat by week 12 ?
If by week 12 your at-home Fetal Doppler isn’t picking up on your baby’s heart, don’t fret.
Once your physician has confirmed your baby’s heartbeat and a healthy pregnancy, it’s unlikely your fetus is injured or struggling. More often than not, your baby is likely just hiding somewhere in your uterus that’s out of your at-home Fetal Doppler’s range.
Several common physical factors can make it harder for an at-home Fetal Doppler to detect what it’s designed to detect, including:
A tilted uterus
Surrounding placenta tissue
Surrounding abdominal fat tissue
Slow fetal growth
Spine-forward fetal lying position
Keep in mind that human error and the slightly lower quality of many at-home Doppler devices can also impact results. That said, trust your instincts—if you’re concerned, you can always request an interim OBGYN checkup.