Ultrasounds can help you see and hear your baby, but you may be wondering whether you can actually feel her tiny heartbeat within your belly 1. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely this will happen. Some anecdotal evidence indicates experienced midwives may be able to feel a fetal heartbeat with their fingers, but there is no medical evidence that this is common or expected.
Early Fetal Development
Your baby’s heart and other organs begin to form about three weeks after conception. Distinct blood vessels form inside the embryo and that develops into your baby's circulatory system and heart. By 6 weeks, your baby's heart will have four chambers, he'll have reflex activity and cells start to form lungs, intestines, the stomach, liver, ears, jaws and eyes, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare 4.
According to authors Lynna Littleton and Joan Engebretson in “Maternal, Neonatal, and Women’s Health Nursing,” medical professionals will be able to detect your baby’s heartbeat as soon as your fourth week of pregnancy with a transvaginal transducer 2. This ultrasonic device can both confirm a pregnancy as well as detect your baby’s heart rate. Between your 10th and 12th week of pregnancy, your baby’s heartbeat is audible via an electronic Doppler device. At about 18 weeks of pregnancy, your healthcare professionals can use a fetoscope to hear your baby’s heartbeat 1.
Littleton and Engebretson warn that your baby’s heartbeat may be confused with your own or with the sounds that often accompany pregnancy. They note that as blood flows into the uterus, the sound it makes can be mistaken for a fetal heartbeat. Called the “uterine souffle,” this noise occurs as blood flows through the umbilical cord.
Fetal Heart Rate
Your baby’s heart rate is faster than yours, and will continue to be throughout pregnancy and early childhood. While your heartbeat should be 60 to 100 beats per minute, your baby’s will be 120 to 160 beats per minute, according to Baby Centre.
Feeling the Heartbeat
It is unlikely you will feel your baby’s heartbeat at any time during your pregnancy. Many pregnant women mistake several things for their baby’s heartbeat, ranging from the flow of blood through the umbilical cord to their own heartbeat to rhythmic movements their babies make, such as hiccups. In “Childbirth and Authoritative Knowledge: Cross-Cultural Perspectives,” Robbie Davis-Floyd and Carolyn Sargent provide anecdotal evidence that experienced midwives can sometimes feel a baby’s heartbeat using diagnostic touch 13. Unless you have the medical experience to eliminate all of the above possibilities, you cannot be sure what you’re feeling is indeed a fetal heartbeat.
- Baby Center: When Can I Hear My Baby's Heartbeat?
- “Maternal, Neonatal, and Women’s Health Nursing”; Lynna Y. Littleton and Joan Engebretson; 2002
- “Childbirth and Authoritative Knowledge: Cross-Cultural Perspectives”; Robbie Davis-Floyd and Carolyn Fishel Sargent; 1997
- Idaho Department of Health and Welfare: Fetal Development
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