Pregnancy blog, 20/06/2017
Why do Kicks Count want to ban personal dopplers?
Similarly to Tommy’s, Kicks Count have spent many years trying to reduce the number of babies in the UK that are stillborn. The increase in the use of home dopplers is one of the areas of concern due to the false reasurrance they may be giving to pregnant women. It's a worry that the RCM also share:
'We have two key concerns: firstly, the machines can lead to unnecessary stress for women when they are unable to find a heartbeat using the personal doppler and secondly, that women may be falsely reassured by hearing what they think is their baby’s heartbeat when it is actually their own.’Mandy Forrester, Head of Quality and Standards at the RCM
What are home dopplers?
Also known as hand-held dopplers, these pocket-sized, battery-operated devices send out high-frequency ultrasound waves. The waves pass through the skin and bounce back. This bounce-back translates into sound.
The problem with relying on home dopplers for reassurance
It is very easy to confuse the mother’s own heartbeat or pulsing of the placenta with the baby’s heartbeat, which can often result in false comfort.
It is also very difficult to listen to the baby’s heartbeat before about 14-16 weeks, so if you are unable to hear it, this may cause lots of unnecessary panic and anxiety.
Our Midwifery Manager Kate, says, ‘Keeping an eye on your baby’s movements is the best way for parents to monitor their wellbeing. If you have any concerns about your baby’s movements – whether they have slowed down or changed pattern – you must contact your maternity unit immediately to be monitored properly.’ Read more…
Even if you successfully find your baby’s heartbeat, this alone is not an indication that they are well. It will let you know that they are alive but they could still be in distress. As Kate says, your baby’s movements and your own instincts are a much stronger sign that they are healthy. If you think something is wrong and you need to be reassured, always ask your midwife.
‘If you saw a person collapsed in the street would you check their pulse and walk away? No, you’d probably call an ambulance because this person is clearly unwell, even though they have a heartbeat.’Elizabeth Hutton, CEO of Kicks Count
Midwives’ training and equipment vs YouTube and Amazon
Hearing your baby’s heartbeat can be a wonderful moment for a parent, and there is no doubt that it can be reassuring. However, it is very important that only trained health professionals, such as midwives, use a doppler to listen in and give you this reassurance.
Midwives have had three years of training to spot the differences between a fetal heartbeat and mum’s heartbeat or a pulsating placenta. The equipment they use is also far more sophisticated and of a much higher quality. Elizabeth explains this brilliantly:
‘A £30 device from Amazon does not operate to the same high standard, and a YouTube tutorial can’t possibly hope to offer you the same education and skill that a midwife has… it would be like checking your friend’s heartbeat with a Peppa Pig stethoscope rather than going to a doctor. The two pieces of equipment just can’t compare.’
If you are worried about your baby, do not rely on a home doppler. Always ask your midwife about any unusual symptoms or change in your baby’s movements. They would rather reassure you 100 times than have you sat at home worrying or trying to self-diagnose using online videos or devices.
But aren’t they fun and good for bonding?
Some argue against the ban because home dopplers help them or their family bond with the baby. While this may be true for some people, there are many natural (and free) ways to bond. You might like to:
- Take 10 minutes every day, alone or with your partner and/or children, to relax and focus on the baby’s movements without any other distractions
- Talk or sing to your baby
- Write letters to them, or keep a diary about how they are developing
- Take a photo every day to reassure you about your baby’s growth and have something fun to look back on with your baby when they’re older
- Sign up to a pregnancy email to help you track your baby’s development
- Massage your bump, or ask your partner or children to.
When you go to see your midwife, ask to record the baby’s heartbeat on your phone to listen back to whenever you feel like it. This can help your family too.
Another argument against the ban is that women need to be educated about how to use dopplers safely and correctly, and not to use them for reassurance. Elizabeth has said:
‘Fans of home dopplers say that they shouldn’t be banned and there should just be more education about not using them for reassurance. But as a charity, Kicks Count has spent the last 5 years doing this and it isn’t helping.’
How to support the Kicks Count home doppler ban
Fetal movements can be anything from a flutter, kick, swish or roll. These can be felt as early as 16 weeks of pregnancy (or even sooner in later pregnancies), but many women don’t feel them until later.
If you feel that something is wrong, or if you are worried about the baby, call your midwife or doctor to talk about it.
At Tommy’s we have noticed there has been lots of coverage about the use of dopplers, so we want to spread the message about the consequences their use can have.
Tommy’s, The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) have formed an alliance to launch The Tommy’s National Centre for Maternity Improvement, which will be established from 1 September 2019.
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