When Can I Hear My Baby's Heartbeat in Pregnancy?

Listening to the baby's heartbeat with a doppler at prenatal care
Photo © Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

You can typically hear your baby's first heartbeat with a Doppler stethoscope between nine and twelve weeks of pregnancy. This might be at your first prenatal visit, depending on when you are seen for the first time. There are some women who will hear it slightly earlier and some who will hear it slightly later. While it is easier said than done, try not to panic.

Why You Might Not Hear the Heartbeat

This delay can be due to your anatomy, so if you are a plus sized mom, your body may make it harder to hear the baby's heartbeat at that time because of how small the baby is at that point.

It can also be because of miscalculated due dates. This happens when you think you are further along than you are in your pregnancy. An ultrasound can help you determine how far along you really are and can show the baby's heartbeat before you can hear it with a Doppler. There may also be other non-problematic things that can cause problems, including technical malfunctions with equipment.

Sometimes not hearing the heartbeat could be due to a problem with the pregnancy, like an impending miscarriage or a blighted ovum. This would be because your baby either has stopped growing and may have died or because, in the case of a blighted ovum, never really formed. You may also hear a heartbeat pattern that concerns the staff, usually because it is too slow. Be sure to ask your practitioner about what a normal fetal heart rate would be for that stage of pregnancy.

When You Don't Hear the Heartbeat

If your doctor or midwife does not hear the heartbeat when they would expect to hear it, they have several options for further investigation, including:

    "I went in for my eight week appointment. We had heard our other baby's heartbeat at that point, so I just assumed it was going to be the same," said a second time mom. "When they couldn't find the heartbeat at first, I just thought it was hiding. As the seconds began to feel longer and longer, I was feeling the panic rise. A different nurse came in and suggested I move a different way and she was able to find it. Talk about being frightened... The doctor said it was normal and everything turned out fine."

    The thought of going home without hearing it, particularly after ten weeks was more than this mom could bear, "They said to go home and come back in two weeks. I was already mulling over all the bad things in my mind. I knew that I would go insane if I had to wait that long. After talking to the midwife, she agreed to let me have a quick ultrasound to assure me everything was fine. Fewer than five minutes later, we were all assured and I went home feeling much better about it."

    What to Do If You're Concerned

    If you are concerned, speak up.

     Be sure to talk to your midwife or doctor about your preferences and concerns. If they do not offer you options, ask specifically what your options are and why those are your options and why other options are off the table. For example, if you aren't offered an ultrasound, ask them why. It might be that they don't have the facilities available or that they simply didn't think about it because they aren't concerned. Only you can decide what feels right for you and your pregnancy.

    Source:

    Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. Gabbe, S, Niebyl, J, Simpson, JL. Fifth Edition.

    The Official Lamaze Guide. Lothian, J and DeVries, C. Meadowbrook; 1 edition.

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