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Feature Patient safety

Dangers of listening to the fetal heart at home

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 06 November 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b4308
  1. Abhijoy Chakladar, research fellow,
  2. Hazel Adams, consultant
  1. 1Department of Anaesthesia, Princess Royal Hospital, Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, Haywards Heath, West Sussex RH16 4EX
  1. Correspondence to: A Chakladar abhijoy.chakladar{at}

    An over the counter fetal heart monitor can be a fun purchase for expectant parents eager to hear their unborn child. But Abhijoy Chakladar and Hazel Adams warn that parents shouldn’t rely on the devices to indicate fetal health

    The fetal heart rate is commonly measured on the labour ward and during pregnancy to monitor the health of the fetus. It requires training and skill to perform accurately. Over the past few years fetal heart monitors have been marketed to expectant parents who want to hear their baby’s heartbeat. However, if not used properly these devices can provide false reassurance, as our recent case describes.

    A 34 year old woman presented urgently to our labour ward on a Monday unable to detect her baby’s heartbeat with her fetal heart monitor. She was 38 weeks pregnant with her first baby and was fit and well, with no medical history. Screening blood tests, fetal anomaly, and subsequent growth scans had shown no …

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