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Detecting Baby’s Heartbeat: Early Signs via Ultrasound and Audible Means

Congratulations on being on this journey! We understand that if you are here, you are trying to understand how to understand the heartbeat of your soon-to-arrive bundle of joy. It is an exciting moment for expecting parents. In the early stages of one’s pregnancy, the anticipation starts to build, and all our focus goes on the first ultrasound appointment and what it may tell us. We have written this guy to help you in your journey to parenthood and understand how important this is to new parents. Going to your appointment with a trusted healthcare professional is one thing but actually understanding what they are showing us in this appointment is another. Let’s take the time together to explore what you can expect in these ultrasound appointments and explain common concerns so you can come out of there feeling confident in your knowledge. 

Early Detection: A Peek into the Magical World of Ultrasound

We take that first pregnancy test, then we call our doctor to get some blood work done to confirm that we are pregnant or not and that’s when the excitement and nerves start to build. As early as 5 1/2 to 6 weeks after conception, one typically has a vaginal ultrasound to reveal the fetal pole and the initial signs of an embryo developing. However, once we are about 7 weeks from conception, that’s when our doctor wants to schedule the first ultrasound to check on a healthy heartbeat and overall well-being and development. Don’t worry, many women don’t even realise they are pregnant for the first 2 months so you might reveal the first glimpse of the fetal pole—the initial sign of a developing embryo. If you have a history of medical conditions, the doctor may choose to do this test earlier at 6 weeks. This can include conditions like previous miscarriages or any other challenges one may have had in getting and staying pregnant. We always recommend having some loved ones go with you. The majority of us need someone there to support us, but we also support your decision to make this a solo journey!

What should I expect during my first ultrasound?

First, remember that each doctor may choose to do things slightly differently based on your situation. Do not panic if your weeks and checks don’t align with other people. Once you start this process, a doctor or an ultrasound technician will first perform some tests to make sure this pregnancy is viable. This will involve them checking for signs of non-viable conditions like molar or ectopic pregnancies. For you new parents, the real excitement starts when the baby’s heartbeat is heard and truly is a milestone worth remembering. You can expect usually around 90-110 beats per minute (bpm) at 6 to 7 weeks and reaching 140-170 bpm by the ninth week.

Medical terms are always daunting. Ask lots of questions and remember you have the right to understand what is being explained! Try not to get too overwhelmed. Your doctor will want to measure the crown-rump length to determine the accurate gestational age, which will indicate if the baby is at the right stage for its age. It’s great if you are truly excited to hear the baby’s heartbeat but also possible that you may not be in this appointment. This doesn’t always mean that there is a problem, it may just mean that you are not as far along as we had thought and it’s just too early to get a clear heartbeat.

We could not hear a heartbeat and had a follow-up appointment. Should I be worried?

As we mentioned, there are many factors, including not being as far along as we initially thought, a tipped uterus or a larger abdomen on average that could contribute to the challenge of detecting the heartbeat during the initial ultrasound. In such cases, your doctor will schedule a follow-up ultrasound in the next one to two weeks.

There is no lack of studies on when best to have an ultrasound and what it means. Many studies have revealed that if a heartbeat is detected at six weeks then there is a 78% chance of the pregnancy continuing but it goes up to 98% at eight weeks and goes up further to 99.4% after 10 weeks. What we are trying to tell you is that if you are worried, then please don’t. Instead, express your concerns to your doctor and keep an open line of communication.

What devices will they use on me? Do they hurt? 

Nothing hurts or inflicts pain but yes some women based on their personal preferences do feel discomfort during these appointments. During these early stages when your doctor performs the transvaginal or abdominal ultrasounds as we discussed earlier, you may feel uncomfortable because let’s face it, why would you really have experienced this before? The transvaginal ultrasound provides a clearer image of the embryo at this stage and likely won’t happen again. However, the abdominal ultrasound offers a better view of the foetus and other organs surrounding it. Your abdominal ultrasound could be done in 2D or 3D depending on your doctor and health care facility. Sometimes you may need to request that they give you a picture to take home!

Should I be able to listen to my baby’s heartbeat without any devices? 

Hearing your baby’s heartbeat can become an exciting addiction very quickly. Some expecting mothers claim to hear the heartbeat through their bellies in a quiet room, particularly during the second or third trimester. However, it is not common and there is a reason so many tests are conducted. Please don’t ever choose your own ears over a medical appointment. Your friend may hear their baby but don’t be overly concerned if this doesn’t happen for you. Your doctor should be monitoring your baby’s heartbeat at each prenatal appointment. Ask them all the questions you can think of and write them down ahead of time if that helps! Your prenatal team can keep a close watch on the heartbeat throughout your pregnancy and into labour and delivery.

Should I trust the multiple phone apps other parents keep recommending?

We truly have started living off our phones! In this day and age of growing technology, multiple apps and devices promise us that we can truly hear your baby’s heartbeat at home. You are welcome to try them all but be cautious not to replace this with medical advice. You spent some time choosing your healthcare team so make sure you understand that these apps and devices are made with various budgets, professionals and marketing schemes. They may be great but they can also be equally inaccurate.  The quality of these apps varies greatly, and inaccurate readings may cause unnecessary concern or panic. Consult with your doctor before you use any device or app at home. It won’t hurt you physically but it can cause unnecessary mental burden due to an inaccurate reading.

Celebrate these fantastic heartbeat milestones, try to enjoy every appointment without worry, and let the expertise of your medical team guide you through this magical journey towards parenthood. For more resources as you navigate through this wonderful experience, please visit the EuroKids website!

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