This Woman’s Stillbirth Warns Against At-Home Fetal Doppler Systems

Ultrasound illustration

At 9 months pregnant and a week past her due date, Vicki McNelly had an instinct something was wrong in the middle of the night. Before heading to the doctor, she did a self-assessment with a home fetal doppler device. The false sense of reassurance it gave her proved to be a fatal mistake.

McNelly thought she heard her daughter’s heartbeat and went back to bed. But when she couldn’t detect any movement the next morning, she headed to the hospital, where she learned she had lost the baby.

Doctors think McNelly actually heard her own heartbeat, not her baby’s. And that lack of clarity when using a home doppler is part of the reason the FDA has advised against them since 2014:

Fetal ultrasound imaging provides real-time images of the fetus. Doppler fetal ultrasound heartbeat monitors are hand-held ultrasound devices that let you listen to the heartbeat of the fetus. Both are prescription devices designed to be used by trained healthcare professionals. They are not intended for over-the-counter (OTC) sale or use, and the FDA strongly discourages their use for creating fetal keepsake images and videos.

At-home doppler systems, which can be purchased for as low as $30, can offer false peace of mind, in McNelly’s case, or a false sense of alarm if you’re not quite sure what you’re looking…

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