August 30, 2005

Get. Onto. Your. Belly. Fetal Monitors Are Booming

The Wall Street Journal's Ron Leiber discovers a mini-boom of expectant parents buying or renting fetal monitors to listen to their baby's heartbeat at home [I'm telling you people, you should be out partying and going to movies every night...]. A fascinating trend--that turns out to be even more illegal than grey market European car seats.

The doppler ultrasound hardware is classified as medical equipment by the FDA and requires a prescription. Most of the sites selling the stuff just slide right by that pesky little requirement by having you check a little box somewhere with terms you don't read or care about.

While many parents buy the hand-held devices for entertainment value, some doctors say they could potentially be life-saving. But other doctors say it's highly unlikely that a layperson could detect a problem. Many doctors have a more practical objection: They're worried people won't use the machines correctly and will panic when they can't find the heartbeat.
No kidding. While ultrasound exposure has been shown to be safe at standard levels (i.e., a couple of times), there is no data about the possible health effects of bombarding your fetus with it all day and night for seven months. But hey, all in the name of entertainment, right?

Parents Buy Fetal Monitors For Home Use []
Conscience gotya? Go to or
Wanna take your chances with the FDA? try or


My wife is a physician. About two months ago she felt like the baby hadn't been kicking much for a day or two. She calls the OB/GYN, who tells her to get the Doppler in her office and check the baby's heartbeat.

My wife gets a heartbeat that is way too low (probably her own pulse). She gets a nurse to help her. They get a higher pulse, but still too low. Cue panic mode!

I get a panic phone call and have to go pick my wife up and take her to the OB/GYN office where we get a quickie ultrasound which shows that the baby is fine, moving, and has a normal heartbeat.

The baby had moved into a position where my wife was probably less likely to feel the kicks, and the OB/GYN said that it is pretty common for a baby to kink their umbilical cord and cause a temporary depression in heart rate. Fortunately, we had an OB/GYN who was understanding.

My wife was about 26 weeks at that point, so if she'd gone to the ER, she would have been deemed "viable" and sent to the labor and delivery section, where they wouldn't have known what to do with her.

Moral of the story? These things are a bad idea. They will lead to more unnecessary ER visits from panicked parents.

On the whole, I agree that this could be troublesome for parents who are unable to find the heartbeat at all times.

However, your comment about the safety of ultrasound is a little misguided. There is little difference between an ultrasound and putting headphones on the mom's tummy, talking directly to the tummy or any of the other billion sounds that your baby hears all day every day.

An ultrasound is not the same as an x-ray, CT, or any other procedure that utilizes light rays from harmful spectrums. Many pregnant OBs and OB nurses will do an ultrasound on themselves weekly (if not daily) because there is no real cost to the office of running the machine.

Granted, there is not data to back up my point - since the government prohibits this type of experimental testing - but frequent ultrasounds are not the worst thing that could happen to an unborn child.

[alarmist, maybe, but I don't think it's as misguided as comparing a concentrated beam of UHF soundwaves to ambient or even headphone sound. The same questions come up with regard to mall-based fetal portrait studios; there just has not been any attempt to gauge the effects--or risks--of exponentially upping the ultrasound a fetus is exposed to. Obviously, we're not talking about recreational X-rays or anything, but no one's making that comparison (except, um, you). Doctors aren't saying it's dangerous; they're saying, "we can't say it's totally safe." -ed.]

I find the state of journalism and brodcasting terrifying. Why? Because of how one poorly researched article that should have never made it through its Editors has been synidicated and propogated through the media machine with no one taking time to research the real facts on ultrasound and the use of fetal dopplers by expectant parents and how companies within the industry deal with FDA regulations.

As an educated onlooker upon the industry and one who has rented a fetal doppler during the pregnancy of my son there are companies that do play by the rules Sweet and Stork These two companies since their inception have attained a prescription for each of their customers through an on staff physician.
Which is legal.

So is the question of legality or possible harm?

If your talking about whether ultrasound is harmful to the mother or fetus, it simply isn't. The proof is 50 years of regular use in obstetrics where there has yet to be any cases of ill effect. Compare 50 years of success with that of most pharmacutical drugs on the market. The FDA has no problem clearing unresearched drugs, that Doctors are bribed into selling to eagerly awating consumers who've been marketed to. Ultrasound in general has a known track record and its perfect. Contrast that with poorly researched drugs most of the citizens in this country take daily.

In the end its all about education and conducting business in good faith. Some questions one should ask themselves before buying any product are: Has the company acted responsibly in educating the customer? Does the consumer understand how to use product? Etc....

If your looking for all these things in a fetal doppler company go to Stork and if your looking for in depth information on fetal dopplers check out their informational site

FYI: Just because somebody says something ( and doesnt mean its true! Its the same with Journalism!

[OK, put down the fetal monitor and step away from the window ledge. If you'd stop freaking out for a second and actually read both the WSJ article and my post, you'll see that these two companies ARE mentioned as requiring prescriptions, and NO ONE is saying fetal monitors ARE harmful; they're saying there's no way to say DEFINITIVELY that they're NOT harmful because it's either impossible or unethical to create an effective research study for it.

I'd give at least a little credence to your claims of fetal monitor safety if your overwrought attack on "Journalism" didn't reveal such a poor, inaccurate reading of the article RIGHT ABOVE IT, and if you cited some actual inaccuracies. day-um. -ed.]

Very defensive of Journalism, arent we!

Let me be clearer. Go to the two companies cited in the article as abiding by the law and actually rent a doppler and see what happens. Since I ordered from both of these companies last week I can guarantee you they won't attain a prescription from a physician before sending the doppler out. This is what I'm talking about, people like yourself propogating untruths with lack of fact! All I'm saying is one of you should of done some actual research.

McDonalds is risky if used incorrectly too!

WTF. You're complaining that the two companies who told the WSJ they just changed their policies that instant didn't actually change them, and a month later you can still buy monitors there without a prescription? And you're complaint against Journalism is what, exactly? That they don't do followups? Doesn't that make the story's point about the technical illegality of getting monitors this way even more valid?

And MY problem, obviously, is not factchecking the WSJ myself a month later, either? Or is it that your pet monitor companies--one of which, sweetbeats, wasn't even mentioned anywhere--require prescriptions, and you just happened to buy monitors from both places last week?

Fine, fact-check THIS: I just ran through the entire checkout process at, and not only was I able to buy a monitor without seeing even a mention of a prescription, there wasn't even the "check here to certify that you talked to a medical professional about this" button, the legality of which is arguable and untested at best.

If what you're really pissed about is my implication that buying from one of these two companies who apparently lied to a reporter will give you a clear conscience, then fine, I apologize. But seriously, I doubt anyone buying a doppler without a prescription is having a crisis of conscience over it, and if they are, I doubt they're looking for absolution from the guy who cops to buying "technically illegal" carseats.

So do I sound defensive? Excuse me. When people come charging into my site, howling at some amorphous "Journalism" and throwing around accusations in a confrontational, argumentative way, it pisses me off. I've entertained your points and refuted them. If you've got any other points to make, GTF, make them politely and fact-based, or make them on your own site.

That was fun! Love your site, Greg.

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