A charity that works to reduce stillbirths has launched a campaign to ban the sale of over-the-counter foetal heart monitors, warning the readily available devices can lead to life-threatening delays in seeking professional help.
Kicks Count says it is calling on the government to ban the sale of home doppler machines, because they can provide false reassurance to pregnant women, putting both mother and baby at risk and hampering efforts to reduce the number of stillbirths in the UK.
“It would be like checking your friend’s heartbeat with a Peppa Pig stethoscope rather than going to a doctor”
More than 7,500 people have so far signed up to an online petition on the website change.org in support of the charity’s campaign.
Kicks Count chief executive Elizabeth Hutton said she could see why pregnant women were drawn to the devices, which cost as little as £20 to £30, with many seeing them as “fun”.
But she warned that most people did not understand how the devices worked and were not able to correctly interpret the sounds they were hearing.
Using one was akin to checking a loved-one’s heartbeat with a “Peppa Pig stethoscope rather than going to a doctor”, she claimed.
“Midwives train for three years to be able to differentiate these sounds using equipment costing upwards of £400,” she noted.
“A £30 device from Amazon does not operate to the same high standard, and a YouTube tutorial can’t possibly hope to offer you the same education and skill that a midwife has,” she added.
“The sound that is heard is not the real heart sound but the machine detecting heart movement”
The Royal College of Midwives is among the expert organisations that has previously expressed concern about the use of home doppler machines.
“We have two key concerns – firstly, the machines can lead to unnecessary stress for women when they are unable to find a heartbeat using the personal doppler and secondly, that women may be falsely reassured by hearing what they think is their baby’s heartbeat when it is actually their own,” said the RCM’s head of quality and standards Mandy Forrester.
One of the key issues is that the machines do not simply amplify a baby’s heartbeat, noted the college. Instead, they use ultrasound waves to detect movement, meaning it is easy to mistake the pulsing of other blood vessels or the mother’s own heart for a foetal heartbeat.
“The sound that is heard is not the real heart sound but the machine detecting heart movement, therefore, picking up a maternal pulse or blood pumping through placenta could give false reassurance,” said Ms Forrester.
Midwives back charity call to ban ‘unsafe’ home dopplers
“Such reassurance could be dangerous, as it may delay a woman in seeking advice from her midwife. Even if the mother has picked up the baby’s heartbeat this is not an indication that the baby is well,” she said.
There are 6,500 stillbirths and neonatal deaths in the UK each year and the government has set a target of halving that figure by 2030.
Kicks Count said banning the sale of home dopplers was a “vital and effect step” towards achieving that target.
“Foetal diagnostic testing is an important medical procedure and should not be seen as something ‘fun’ when it puts lives at risk,” stated the petition. “We need to put the safety of babies ahead of entertainment.”