At-home foetal heart rate monitors can be dangerous

Doctors warn parents-to-be the devices should just be used for fun

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At-home foetal heart rate monitors should be used just for fun and bonding, not as an alternative to professional medical advice, doctors have warned dads and mums-to-be, reports the BBC.

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The monitors can lead to unnecessary worry, or give “false reassurance”, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) has reported.

The warning comes after a mum-to-be, at 38 weeks, used her at-home monitor when she felt her unborn baby wasn’t moving as often. Over the weekend she felt reassured by listening to her baby’s heartbeat. On the Monday, she headed to hospital as she couldn’t find the heartbeat anymore. An ultrasound revealed her baby had died in the womb. Doctors think the woman had heard her own heartbeat or placental blood flow, and not her baby’s, over the weekend.

This foetal death may have happened anyway, but the DIY monitoring delayed the mum-to-be from seeking medical advice, said Dr Abhijoy Chakladar, from Brighton’s Princess Royal Hospital, who treated the woman and raised the issue in the BMJ.

“These monitors are great fun as long as they are just used for a bit of bonding with the baby or play with older siblings,” Dr Chakladar said, “But they become dangerous when they’re used by untrained people as an alternative to seeking medical attention.”

Dr Chakladar added, “Expectant mothers who notice a reduction in foetal movement or have any other concerns about their baby’s health should instead contact their midwife or labour ward for expert advice and reassurance.”

Others have also spoken about the devices. “If you’re just doing it for fun and you can’t pick up the heart rate because you’re pointing it in the wrong direction that would unnecessarily frighten you. And it shouldn’t be used to provide reassurance,” said Donald Peebles, spokesman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

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“These devices may be sold as a bit of fun for parents to use, but let me be categorically clear; there is absolutely no substitute for speaking to your midwife or doctor as soon as possible if you think that there is something wrong during your pregnancy,” commented Mervi Jokinen, from the Royal College of Midwives.

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