Hearing your unborn baby’s heartbeat for the first time is something you’ll never forget. An ultrasound can pick up this beautiful sound as early as the 6th week, and you can hear it with a fetal Doppler as early as 12 weeks.
But what if you want to hear your baby’s heartbeat at home? Can you use a stethoscope or another device? Yes — here’s how.
The good news is that by the time you get to a certain point in your pregnancy, you don’t have to wait for your next prenatal visit at your OB-GYN’s office to hear your baby’s heartbeat. It’s possible to hear the heartbeat at home using a stethoscope.
Unfortunately, you can’t hear it as early as you can with an ultrasound or fetal Doppler. With a stethoscope, a baby’s heartbeat is often detectable between the 18th and 20th week.
Stethoscopes are designed to amplify small sounds. It has a chest piece that connects to a tube. The chest piece captures the sound, and then the sound travels up the tube to the earpiece.
Stethoscopes are widely available, so you don’t have to work in the medical field to purchase one. They’re sold at medical supply stores, drug stores, and online.
However, keep in mind that not all stethoscopes are created equal. When shopping for one, read reviews and product descriptions to ensure you get a product that works for you.
You want a stethoscope with good acoustic and audibility quality, as well as one that’s lightweight so that it’s comfortable around your neck. The size of the tube also matters. Typically, the larger the tube, the faster the sound can travel to the earpiece.
Here are step-by-step tips on using a stethoscope to hear your baby’s heartbeat:
- Find a quiet location. The quieter your surroundings, the easier it’ll be to hear your baby’s heartbeat. Sit in a room alone with the television and radio off.
- Lie down on a soft surface. You can listen to your baby’s heartbeat in bed or lying on the couch.
- Feel around your stomach and find your baby’s back. Baby’s back is an ideal place to hear a fetal heartbeat. This section of your stomach should feel hard, yet smooth.
- Place the chest piece on this area of your stomach. Now you can begin to listen through the earpiece.
You might not immediately hear it. If this is the case, slowly move the stethoscope up or down until you’re able to pick up a sound. Fetal heartbeats can sound like a watch ticking underneath a pillow.
Don’t panic if you can’t hear your baby’s heartbeat. Using a stethoscope is one method for hearing a heartbeat at home, but it’s not always effective.
Your baby’s position can make it difficult to hear, or you might not be far enough along in your pregnancy to detect a heartbeat with a stethoscope. Placenta placement can also make a difference: If you have an anterior placenta, the sound you’re looking for may be harder to find.
You can try again at another time. Although, if you have any concerns, don’t hesitate to contact your OB-GYN.
Your OB has likely heard hundreds — if not thousands — of heartbeats. Although it’s heartwarming (no pun intended) to hear your little one’s ticker in the comfort of your home, you shouldn’t use what you hear — or don’t hear — to diagnose any problems. Leave that to your doctor.
A stethoscope isn’t the only way to detect a fetal heartbeat at home. Other devices might work, too, but be wary of claims.
A fetoscope looks like a stethoscope combined with a horn. It’s used to monitor fetal heart rate, but it can also detect a heartbeat as early as the 20th week. However, these are not as easy to find for everyday use at home. Talk to your midwife or doula, if you have one.
And while you can purchase an at-home fetal Doppler, know that these devices aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration for home use. There’s not enough evidence to say whether they’re safe and effective.
Furthermore, certain apps claim to use your cellphone’s microphone to listen to your baby’s heartbeat. This may seem like a fun way to record and share the heartbeat with friends and family, but be careful about how much you trust these.
Case in point: One 2019 study found that of 22 phone apps claiming to detect fetal heartbeat without need for additional accessories or in-app purchases, all 22 failed to accurately find the heartbeat.
Sometimes, you can even hear a baby’s heartbeat with the naked ear, although the slightest background noise can make this difficult. Your partner can place their ear on your belly and see if they hear anything.
The ability to hear your baby’s heartbeat at home is an excellent way to build a bond. But while a stethoscope and other at-home devices make this possible, hearing the faint sound of a baby’s heartbeat isn’t always possible.
One of the best ways to hear the heartbeat is during a prenatal appointment when your OB-GYN uses an ultrasound or fetal Doppler.
And remember, your OB is not only there to help but also wants you to experience all the joys pregnancy has to offer. So don’t hesitate to get their advice on how to connect with your growing baby between clinic visits.