Since you found out you were pregnant, one of the first milestones you are likely eagerly awaiting is hearing your baby’s heartbeat... it’s one of the most exciting moments, not to mention extremely reassuring sounds there are!
At what stage does your baby’s heart start beating?
Your baby's heart starts beating when you are around 6 weeks pregnant. By the time you get your getting dated scan at 8 to 14 weeks, your baby’s heart is beating between 110 times and 160 times a minute... (that is about double the speed of your own heartbeat!)
Most women say that the beating of their baby's heart sounds like the thunder of galloping horses. Hearing it for the first time can be very moving. You may also hear your baby’s heartbeat at one of your antenatal appointments. It can be hard to hear it in the first trimester so your midwife will check the heartbeat around 16 weeks, not long after your first scan.
What if you cannot hear the heartbeat at the scan?
Do not be disappointed, as the sound of the baby’s heartbeat can be affected by numerous factors such as:
- Your baby’s position in the womb
- How active your baby is at the time
- How accurate your due date is,
- What method the midwife uses to listen for the heartbeat.
What methods can be used to hear the baby’s heartbeat?
Your midwife is most likely to use a hand-held Doppler device to hear your baby’s heartbeat.
A Doppler sends and receives sound waves that bounce off your baby’s heart movements. These movements are then amplified by the soundwave you can hear by ultrasound. Your midwife will put gel (hopefully not too cold!) on your stomach and then move the sensor over it until the spot is located where the heartbeat can be heard.
You can also rent or buy Dopplers to use at home however, midwives and doctors do not advise this because it takes training and practice to find and identify a baby’s heartbeat and if you cannot locate it at home yourself, this can trigger unnecessary panic.
Some midwives use a stethoscope to find your baby’s heartbeat. This method lets your midwife listen to the heartbeat directly, so it can be more accurate to use, however if the baby isn’t lying in the right position, you may not hear anything. Your midwife may not be able to pick up a heartbeat using a stethoscope until as late as 28 weeks.
Most doctors don’t end up using stethoscopes anymore because of the technological advancements with ultrasounds and dopplers being so much faster and easier.
If you are concerned...
You must speak to your doctor if you have any concerns. Your doctor and midwife can keep a close watch on the heartbeat throughout your pregnancy and into labour and delivery.