What is a Prenatal Listener?

Laura M. Sands

A prenatal listener allows parents and other interested parties to hear an unborn baby’s heartbeat at any time. Similar to devices used in a doctor’s office to listen to a baby’s heart rate, portable devices used at home allow parents to listen to these sounds at their leisure. Some prenatal listener devices also work with auxiliary recording devices to store sounds for later playback.

Prenatal listeners are popular baby shower gifts which allow expectant parents to hear an unborn child's heartbeat.
Prenatal listeners are popular baby shower gifts which allow expectant parents to hear an unborn child's heartbeat.

During the second trimester of pregnancy, naturally occurring sounds such as an infant heart rate, movement and hiccups can be heard from within the womb. A prenatal listener allows parents to hear these sounds at any time without having to rely solely on a doctor’s visit. An at-home prenatal listener also allows siblings and grandparents to hear these sounds even when they are unable to attend prenatal ultrasound visits.

The first time a baby's heartbeat is heard is often very exciting for expecting parents.
The first time a baby's heartbeat is heard is often very exciting for expecting parents.

A digital prenatal listening system may offer a clearer sound transmission than some other systems. Online vendors, as well as brick-and-mortar baby supply stores, usually carry multiple prenatal listener brands. They are a popular gift item for baby showers. Reviews of some of these items, however, express dissatisfaction that certain prenatal listener devices are difficult to use and that sounds are sometimes indistinguishable from the mother’s pulse rate or from other naturally occurring sounds emanating from the mother’s womb.

Some health experts have gone so far as to issue stern warnings about the use of Doppler ultrasound heartbeat monitors, because these prenatal listener devices use ultrasound technology. Though deemed to be safe to use under a physician’s supervision, some governmental authorities raise concerns over the risk of overuse or uncontrolled use. While ultrasound technology does not appear to pose an immediate risk to an unborn child, health experts fear that the heating of the tissue that occurs when ultrasound enters a woman’s body may create tiny gas pockets in her tissue and surrounding bodily fluids. When multiple listening episodes occur, the long-term effect of this issue is not known, but there is concern that it may create a future health problem.

In some places, prenatal listener devices can be rented for a modest fee and returned after a child has been born. This service is intended to be of benefit to those who will only use the device for a single pregnancy. Other families prefer to purchase a prenatal listening system for use in future pregnancies or to own a device that can be shared with other family members who plan to become pregnant.

Overuse of prenatal listeners may be harmful to unborn babies.
Overuse of prenatal listeners may be harmful to unborn babies.

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