Fertility and pregnancy

Mums-to-be warned against home heart monitors

Mothers to be urged to avoid home doppler monitors Use of devices could give false reassurance

It is standard practice for doctors, midwives and other health professionals to monitor the heartbeat of a foetus as part of routine health checks in pregnant women.

But the British Medical Journal is reporting a case where a 32 weeks' pregnant woman arrived at hospital with reduced movement in her unborn child. It seems she had first noticed this two days previously, but was reassured as she used a foetal heart monitor (Doppler device) to check the baby's heart rate and thus convinced herself that there was no problem.

The hospital team were concerned about the baby's lack of movement and it was delivered by caesarean section later that evening. The baby has now been in a special care unit for eight weeks and is thankfully making "steady progress."

The doctors in the case point out that a hand-held Doppler device assesses the presence of foetal heart pulsations only at that moment, and it is used by midwives and obstetricians to check for viability or for intermittent monitoring during labour. In untrained hands it is more likely that blood flow through the placenta or the mother's main blood vessels will be heard, providing a falsely reassuring reading to the untrained user.

The medical team were prompted by the case to investigate further the availability of these devices to the general public and they were shocked to find them available for as little as £25 on eBay.

Although the companies offering sales state that the device is not intended to replace recommended antenatal care, they also make claims such as "you will be able to locate and hear the heartbeat with excellent clarity".

The team, at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Arrowe Park Hospital, Wirral, are now advising all mothers-to-be to avoid these products.

This article was published on Fri 21 August 2009

Image © robynmac - Fotolia.com

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