Home use of handheld Doppler devices in pregnancy
Safer Care Victoria has identified an increased risk of perinatal mortality associated with the use of fetal heart rate monitors (fetal dopplers) purchased for use at home.
Handheld Doppler devices are readily available to the public and are increasingly being used by parents to check their fetus’ heart at home during pregnancy. Without proper training, it can be difficult to distinguish between the maternal pulse and fetal heartbeat. Identification of the fetal heart rate does not provide any prognostic information regarding fetal well-being and may be falsely reassuring.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has published a position statement and the Consultative Council on Obstetric and Paediatric Mortality and Morbidity has made a recommendation in regard to this issue. The Therapeutic Goods Administration is currently reviewing the safety of handheld Doppler devices.
Advice for clinicians
- Pregnant women and their partners must be cautioned about the risks involved in the use of home fetal heart rate monitors during pregnancy, especially if the woman is experiencing reduced fetal movements.
- Pregnant women and their partners must be advised to contact their maternity service and present for review without delay if they are concerned about their baby’s movements regardless of what they hear on the home fetal heart rate monitor.
- Before 28 weeks gestation, pregnant women and their partners must be provided with verbal and written information about fetal movements. Safer Care Victoria has partnered with the Centre of Research Excellence in Stillbirth (Stillbirth CRE) to implement the Safer Baby Bundle of Care. Resources on decreased fetal movements can be found on the Stillbirth CRE website.
- At every clinical encounter from 28 weeks gestation, clinicians must emphasise the importance of maternal awareness of fetal movements.
For more information, contact the Maternity and Newborn Learning Health Network via maternityandnewbornLHN@safercare.vic.gov.au.
- Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (2009) Position Statement on Home Fetal Heart Monitoring. Position Statement on Home Fetal Heart Monitoring
- Consultative Council on Obstetric and Paediatric Mortality and Morbidity Victoria’s Mothers, Babies and Children 2020 (2022) Safer Care Victoria
- Australian Government Therapeutic Goods Association (2022)