The Doppler Didn't Detect My Baby's Heartbeat. Should I Worry?

doctor using doppler monitor on pregnant woman
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My physician couldn't find the baby's heartbeat with the fetal heart monitor. I'm 10 weeks pregnant. Is lack of a fetal heartbeat a bad sign?

Although you may have heard of people being able to hear their baby's heartbeats with a baby doppler as early as 7 or 8 weeks, there is a lot of variation in when the baby's heartbeat becomes audible. The tilt of your uterus, the location of the placenta, and your body shape can affect the timing of when you hear a fetal heartbeat.

Furthermore, possible miscalculations of the gestational age can also result in no detectable heartbeat.

Most of the time, physicians should be able to find the baby's heartbeat with a baby doppler by the end of the first trimester (by 12 weeks). Some physicians do not even begin checking for the heartbeat with a doppler device before then to avoid causing unnecessary concern.

If your physician did not find your baby's heartbeat with a handheld doppler and you have not yet reached 12 weeks, have patience because it may just be too early. There is no reason to be concerned unless you are having miscarriage symptoms, in which case your doctor may order further testing.

If you are past 12 weeks and the physician could not find the heartbeat, it may be worth investigating. Your doctor may recommend you have an ultrasound, which will tell you whether or not there is cause for concern.

On a related note, a fetal ultrasound (also known as a sonogram) uses high-frequency sound waves to produce an image of the fetus.

Fetal ultrasound helps your physician determine whether your baby is growing and developing normally. Sometimes a fetal ultrasound is performed to confirm a suspected diagnosis. Fetal ultrasounds are typically performed during the first trimester to confirm pregnancy dates. Fetal ultrasound is also routinely done during once during the second trimester.

If you have rented or purchased a doppler device for use at home and you are having trouble finding your baby's heartbeat, let your doctor know -- but don't worry quite yet. It is normal for moms to have trouble finding the heartbeat, even after having found it previously. It takes doctors and midwives a lot of practice to know where to look. Your doctor or midwife should be able to ease your concerns and perhaps offer some tips on how to find the baby's heartbeat with your doppler device.

Sources

Bratton, Robert L. Bratton's Family Medicine Board Review. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2007. Page 357.

Littleton, Lynna Y. and Joan Engebretson. Maternal, neonatal, and women's health nursing. Cengage Learning, 2002. Page 416.

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