This is screenshot of a review I found on a popular supermarket website for a baby heart monitor:
This was one of about 300 similar reviews.
I have huge respect for women's choices in pregnancy. But the reviews indicate these women don't know that it's dangerous to take reassurance from a doppler, overriding their own instincts and awareness of their baby's movements.
Most obstetricians and midwives are very aware of how dangerous false reassurance from machines can be.
I don't think many women are making a choice when they use these. They don't know the context and the marketing doesn't tell them.
That's why I was thrilled when Elizabeth Hutton, CEO of charity 'Kicks Count' said she would write a blog post for me about her new petition asking the government to stop home dopplers being sold.
I'll now pass this blog over to Elizabeth so she can explain what's going on!
'When I was pregnant with my children, home dopplers were hard to come by. Which is lucky because as a naïve first-time mum I probably would have been tempted to get one.
A chance to listen to your baby’s heartbeat whenever you fancy, what’s not to like?
It's only since working in the pregnancy and baby loss sector that I have become more aware of their risks and the danger they pose. I hear far too many stories of women who have been reassured they’d heard a heartbeat only to go on and lose their baby. But trying to convey that to other mothers is like swimming against the tide. This is why we propose the ban of their sale.
The government have banned the use of microbeads in cosmetics in 2017 because of the risk they pose to the environment, so we think home dopplers need to be banned for the risk they pose to babies.
Medical professionals do not advocate the use of home dopplers and yet they are freely available to buy in the UK and are becoming more and more popular.
"We advise against personal Dopplers as it takes considerable training to use them properly,' says Jane Munro of the RCM. 'It can cause needless stress to a pregnant woman when she cannot pick up her baby's heartbeat. It can lead to raised blood pressure in the mother and premature births.
More worrying, we've had cases where there has been something wrong with a baby and the mother has been wrongly reassured after hearing her own heartbeat, or the sound of blood pumping through the placenta, leading to a dangerous delay in her seeking medical attention. In at least one instance, sadly the baby died."
Dr Thomas Aust, an obstetrician at the Wirral's Arrowe Park Hospital, spoke of a 27-year-old woman who was admitted to his antenatal ward due to reduced fetal movement 32 weeks into her first pregnancy.
The unnamed woman told doctors that she had first noticed her baby had become less active two days previously, but had been reassured that all was well after using her own Doppler to listen to its heartbeat. However, concerned by a lack of movement during monitoring, doctors performed an emergency caesarean later that evening.
The baby was so unwell it spent its first eight weeks on the special care unit.
One of the issues around home dopplers is that midwives and obstetricians train for many years to interpret what they hear, but an untrained pregnant woman does not have the necessary skills. The placenta and the mother's heart beat can both easily be mistaken for a fetal heartbeat. It's likely that blood flow through the placenta or the maternal aorta or iliac vessels will be heard.
If they notice a change in their baby’s movements but find a heartbeat they may delay seeking vital medical attention. The presence of a heartbeat does not mean the baby is well, only that it is still alive. If the baby is in distress this is when medical attention should be sought.
Waiting until they can no longer find a heartbeat means it is sadly too late to save that baby.
We always say to mums: if you saw someone collapsed in the street would you check they had a heartbeat and walk away? Or would you call an ambulance? We should be encouraging all mothers who are concerned about their baby to contact medical professionals immediately, not just check for a heartbeat.
At Kicks Count we produce the leaflet 'Why Shouldn’t I Use A Home Doppler?'. This is popular with midwives but sadly doesn’t go far enough. The only real solution is to remove them from sale.
There are 6500 stillbirths or neonatal deaths in the UK every year and the government has set a target to reduce that figure by half by 2030.
We should be taking every opportunity to save as many of these lives as we can. The banning of home dopplers will be a vital and effective step.
Fetal diagnostic testing is an important medical procedure and should not be seen as something ‘fun’ when it puts lives at risk. We need to put the safety of babies ahead of entertainment.'
Thanks Elizabeth! There's also a wonderful video made by the chairty Tommy's that you can share here:
Please share this post so we can get as many signatures as possible, it's a great cause.
I'd also love to hear from you, leave me a comment telling me...
1. If you're a student or midwife, do you come across women who use home dopplers? How do you approach the subject?
2. If you've been a pregnant Mum, did you use a home doppler? Do you feel you had the right information to make this choice, and what would have persuaded you that this can be dangerous?
As always, thanks so much for reading. Midwife Diaries is a busy blog these days and it's my great honour to keep writing for you.
Thanks for everything you do for women and families,
P.S. I went to a brilliant conference this week, on 'Is Midwifery an Art or a Science' in Canterbury. I saw Sheena Byrom talk and something stuck with me. She said: don't be afraid to love the people around you. This includes colleagues but especially the women. That's sort of what the whole role of being a midwife is about. Amazing, right?!