Ban the over the counter sale of home dopplers
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Kicks Count is a charity working to reduce the number of stillbirths in the UK by raising awareness of the importance of baby's movements in determining fetal wellbeing.
While progress is being made, efforts are being hampered by the increasing use of home dopplers, a prescription device designed for medical use that has now made its way into the consumer market.
Medical professionals do not advocate the use of home dopplers and yet they are freely available to buy in the UK. “We advise against personal Dopplers as it takes considerable training to use them properly,' says Jane Munro of the RCM. 'It can cause needless stress to a pregnant woman when she cannot pick up her baby's heartbeat. It can lead to raised blood pressure in the mother and premature births.
'More worrying, we've had cases where there has been something wrong with a baby and the mother has been wrongly reassured after hearing her own heartbeat, or the sound of blood pumping through the placenta, leading to a dangerous delay in her seeking medical attention. In at least one instance, sadly the baby died.'
Dr Thomas Aust, an obstetrician at the Wirral's Arrowe Park Hospital, spoke of a 27-year-old woman who was admitted to his antenatal ward due to reduced fetal movement 32 weeks into her first pregnancy. The unnamed woman told doctors that she had first noticed her baby had become less active two days previously, but had been reassured that all was well after using her own Doppler to listen to its heartbeat. However, concerned by a lack of movement during monitoring, doctors performed an emergency Caesarean later that evening. The baby was so unwell it spent its first eight weeks on the special care unit.
One of the issues around home dopplers is midwives and Doctors train for many years to interpret what they hear, an untrained pregnant women does not have the necessary skills. The placenta, and the mothers heart beat can both easily be mistaken for a fetal heart beat. In untrained hands it is more likely that blood flow through the placenta or the maternal aorta or iliac vessels will be heard.
Another important issue is that women can be falsely reassured when using a home Doppler. If they notice a change in their baby’s movements but find a heart beat they may delay seeking vital medical attention. The presence of a heart beat does not mean the baby is well, only that it is still alive. If the baby is in distress this is when medical attention should be sought. Waiting until they can no longer find a heartbeat means it is sadly too late to save that baby.
If you saw someone collapsed in the street would you check they had a heartbeat and walk away? or would you call an ambulance? We should be encouraging all mothers if they are concerned about their baby to contact medical professionals immediately, not just check for a heartbeat.
There are 6500 stillbirths or neonatal deaths in the UK every year and the government has set a target to reduce that figure by half by 2030. We should be taking every opportunity to save as many of these lives as we can. The banning of home dopplers will be a vital and effective step.
Fetal diagnostic testing is an important medical procedure and should not be seen as something ‘fun’ when it puts lives at risk. We need to put the safety of babies ahead of entertainment.
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