Fetal Doppler at Home and in Hospital: Is It Safe?

There is a lot of talk concerning fetal doppler safety. Fetal dopplers are widely used to check for heartbeat in baby’s while in the womb. They are also used to measure baby’s growth and organ development during an ultrasound examination.

It has become very popular to buy home dopplers so mom’s and dad’s can check baby’s heartbeat in the comfort of their own home, but are they safe? There have been warnings that fetal dopplers used by an untrained person can cause mistakes or oversights into a baby’s health. There are also some rumors that too much ultrasound waves can harm a fetus in the stages of development. 

This article will look at what a fetal doppler actually does, answers questions about safety, and gives you helpful information on when to contact your doctor over concerns with your growing baby during pregnancy.

How Do Fetal Dopplers Work?

A fetal doppler is an ultrasound wand that is held against a mother’s belly to try and pick up a baby’s heartbeat. They are also the wands used in ultrasounds to actually see the baby’s outline, and in some cases the actual organs.

A doppler uses ultrasound waves that bounce off the baby and pick up heart tones, and images. The probe sends out pulses of sound waves into the mother’s womb. The sound waves bounce back to the doppler and into the electronic audio device.

Are Fetal Dopplers Safe?

Fetal doppler safety and ultrasound waves have not been widely tested, but the Food and Drug Administration has approved them for use in expecting mothers. They have done limited studies and no damage to fetuses was noted. They also approved the sale and use of doppler’s by parents for use in the home. However, an advisory was issued that parents with concerns about their baby’s health should seek medical attention.

The concerns over fetal doppler use regard the “false sense” of security that your baby is okay. Sadly, some parents thought they picked up a heartbeat in baby only to learn later that the heartbeat was a false reading and the baby had passed away in utero.

What About The Safety of Doctor’s Dopplers? 

Doppler’s used by medical professionals are considered safe for use, especially if only used as necessary. While there is no proven harm from using a doppler in ultrasound or heartbeat detection, there is a possibility that excessive overuse may cause harm. It is not recommended to get the powerful 3D ultrasound pictures, and not do diagnostic ultrasounds unless absolutely medically necessary.

Pros and Cons of Using Home Fetal Dopplers 

If you would like to hear your baby’s heartbeat more often than the doctor’s office, there are some pro’s and con’s to look at associated with their use:


  • May facilitate early bonding with your baby. Hearing the heartbeat fosters a connection with the “little person” growing inside of you.
  • If your partner is unable to make doctor visits, this allows for them to hear baby’s heartbeat. You also allow siblings and other family members to listen to baby.
  • No known side-effects or risks if used properly. Non-invasive, meaning nothing goes inside your body.
  • Peace of mind to parents who have lost a baby, or have increased risk of pregnancy complications.


  • The number one issue with fetal doppler safety, is misdiagnosis. There is a strong chance of the doppler picking up mom’s heartbeat, or other sounds that may mimic a heartbeat. While urgent treatment by a physician may not prevent miscarriage, it may help save a fetus in distress. A home doppler cannot prevent miscarriage, and may put a fetus in distress in grave danger.
  • An untrained ear may not be able to pick up a fetal heartbeat. This may lead to anxiety that there is no heartbeat, when there is a heartbeat.
  • May increase parental anxiety, and feeling the need to use the doppler constantly to check the baby.
  • Only checks the heartbeat and not other definitive symptoms of fetal distress.
  • The FDA only recommends infrequent use since they are not sure of harmful effects with overuse.

Concerns That Need More Research

There are some concerns about the effects of doppler use and fetal tissue. Some studies show that ultrasound waves may create heat, and this is why the fetus tries to move away from the doppler. The question being looked at is whether the heat from an ultrasound doppler could damage the developing nerve tissue in the fetal nervous system.

The FDA and doctors advise against the 3D photo ultrasounds until more research is done, as the sound waves are much more powerful and may increase the risk of fetal harm. This is also why it is advised not to get ultrasound examinations unless absolutely necessary.

There are also some surprisingly high numbers where cases of miscarriage and preterm labor increased in women who were given excessive ultrasounds over regular pelvic examinations. This too has not been thoroughly researched to prove if the ultrasound use was a factor.

Alternative Things You Can Do To Check Baby

If still concerned fetal doppler safety, you can try the following alternatives.

Note: If you think that your baby is in danger or you are experiencing complications with your pregnancy, the best thing to do is contact your doctor or go to the hospital. They have everything you and your baby need to make sure things are okay. Using a doppler to monitor heartbeat is only one part of a full examination. They will ask you questions about kicks/movements, your health history, do blood work, and check to see if the baby is getting enough oxygen and nutrients.

One way to help your doctor’s understand how things are going is to do the following:

Kick Counts

Later in pregnancy when you are aware of your baby’s patterns, begin to do “kick counts.” Do these at a time when you know your baby is most active. It can be at different times for different babies. You should feel 10 movements in a two-hour period. If not, you need to call your doctor right away.

Good Prenatal Care

Fetal dopplers cannot replace good prenatal care. Checking on baby with a doppler is only a small part of your care. Your doctor needs to check a number of t