A warning has been issued to pregnant women against the use of heart rate monitors at home, as it could deter them from seeking timely advice incase of complications.
Foetal Doppler machines are exciting to expectant parents, as they can hear the movement of their growing baby right from 12 weeks. The advertisements also speak of the possibility of hearing sounds of kicking and hiccups from the womb.
The team from the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust -Dr Thomas Aust, a specialist registrar, David Ankers, a trainee specialist and Akin Famoriyo, a consultant, have warned pregnant women of the possible fallout of using home doppler machines.
They explained a case where a lady, 32 weeks into her first pregnancy, was admitted into the ward with reduced foetal movements. She had observed reduced foetal activity two days prior to admission and had reassured herself using her own doppler device to hear the foetal heart beat. She just assumed everything was normal.
The foetal cardiotocograph portrayed reduced variability for more than an hour. Steroids were administered to improve foetal lung maturity, and she delivered the baby by caesarean section the same evening. "The baby was born floppy and small for gestational age, while the placenta "looked calcified and pale", according to the experts.
The baby was kept in the special care unit with hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy, which means the cells of the nervous system had been damaged, and the baby suffered intraventricular haemorrhage characterised by poor reflexes and lethargy.
The experts advised "A hand-held Doppler device assesses the presence of foetal heart pulsations only at that moment, and it is used by midwives and obstetricians to check for viability or for intermittent monitoring during labour. In untrained hands, it is more likely that blood flow through the placenta or the maternal aorta or iliac vessels will be heard."
"Although the companies offering sales state that the device is not intended to replace recommended antenatal care, they also make claims such as, 'You will be able to locate and hear the heartbeat with excellent clarity'. Although self-monitoring provided false reassurance and a delay in seeking help in this case, it is difficult to say if this altered the outcome. We now have posters in our antenatal areas to recommend that patients do not use these devices."