Are You Listening? Your Baby's Heartbeat Speaks Volumes

Baby feet with hand heart.jpg

The first time expectant parents hear their new baby’s heartbeat is a life-changing experience. But it’s more than a first “Hello”; that little heartbeat can tell you a lot about baby. How does a soon-to-be mother and father know if a heart rate is “normal” or how to keep the baby’s heart healthy during pregnancy?

Let’s dive in and take a deeper look at understanding fetal heart rate.

What is Fetal Heart Rate? 

When a doctor is referring to fetal heart rate, he or she is talking about the baby’s heartbeat in utero. A fetus’s heart rate will usually range between 110 to 160 beats per minute (bpm), but it can vary throughout pregnancy. The baby’s heart rate could increase all the way up to 170 bpm.

Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring 

Fetal heart monitoring measures the heart rate of the baby and the heart’s rhythm. Monitoring the heart helps your health care provider know how your baby is doing. A baby’s heartbeat is monitored at each prenatal appointment throughout the entire duration of a pregnancy.

A provider may do fetal heart monitoring later in pregnancy and during labor. As the baby responds to different conditions in the uterus, the heart rate can change. There are two different methods of fetal heart monitoring:

  • External fetal heart monitoring. In this method, the doctor will use a device to listen to the baby’s heartbeat through the mother’s belly. A Doppler ultrasound device is one form of monitor that a doctor may use to check in on the baby’s heartbeat. This device is most often used during prenatal visits to check the fetal heart rate or to monitor the baby’s heartbeat during the labor process. 
  • Internal fetal heart monitoring. A transducer is put on the fetus’s scalp during labor in this form of fetal heart monitoring. A wire will run from the fetus through the mother’s cervix, which is then connected to a monitor. This method gives doctors a better reading because movement does not affect its measurements, but it can only be done if the amniotic sac has broken and the cervix has opened. 

It may seem scary if the doctor says they are going to monitor your baby’s heart rate, but fetal heart monitoring is used in almost every pregnancy during a woman’s prenatal visits. Monitoring helps look for potential problems and check on the health of the baby. It is especially beneficial if a woman has a high-risk pregnancy.

Some factors can make fetal heart monitoring less accurate, which include:

  • Position of the fetus
  • Obesity
  • Too much amniotic fluid
  • Cervix is not appropriately dilated, or the amniotic sac has yet to break (this applies to internal monitoring only)

Normal Fetal Heart Rate

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology

  • Normal: fetal heart rate baseline between 110–160 bpm
  • Tachycardia: fetal heart rate baseline greater than 160 bpm
  • Bradycardia: fetal heart rate less than 110 bpm

Irregular or abrupt fluctuations in a baseline fetal heart rate may help indicate problems with baby's heart or the pregnancy, such as abnormal fetal acid–base. 

Fetal Heart Rate During the First Trimester 

During the early period of pregnancy, the heart begins to beat in the fifth week of pregnancy. This period is when the baby’s heart and other organs begin forming. In the sixth week, the baby’s heart begins to pump blood.

Fetal Heart Rate During the Second Trimester

Once a woman has reached her second trimester, her baby’s heartbeat will be between 110 to 160 bpm and can be detected using a Doppler device. If the doctor has discovered an irregular heartbeat, such as beating too slow or too fast, there is a chance that the baby could have a heart condition.

Fetal Heart Rate in the Third Trimester 

The fetal heart rate in the third trimester will be much like that of the second trimester. The baby will begin growing more rapidly!

Fetal Heart Rate Doesn't Predict Gender

Have you heard your baby’s heart rate can predict its gender? It’s a common pregnancy myth that if the expectant mother is having a girl if the baby’s heart rate is 140 bpm or above, and a fetal heart rate lower than 140 bpm is a boy. If you would like to know the gender of your baby before giving birth, your best bet is on an ultrasound image. Even then, the ultrasound technician cannot say with 100 percent certainty that you will be giving birth to a boy or a girl.

How to Keep Your Baby’s Heart Healthy During Pregnancy 

Having a healthy pregnancy is critical to your baby’s development. Once you discover you are pregnant, make an appointment with your provider immediately to begin prenatal care. The sooner you begin receiving prenatal care, the higher the chances are that the baby will be healthy.

What can be done to take care of yourself during pregnancy? It’s important to remember that you’re no longer eating for just one and both you and your baby need a nutritious diet. Eating nutrient dense foods will help the baby develop properly. Avoiding foods high in fat, limiting caffeine and certain types of food is also important when it comes to keeping baby healthy.

Though your baby makes this a little difficult, it’s important to get plenty of sleep. Early on during pregnancy, you should try to get used to sleeping on your side. As your pregnancy progresses, this will likely be the most comfortable sleeping position. Lying on your side can help keep some of the baby’s weight from applying pressure to a vein that carries blood from the heart to the legs and feet.

Get The Baby Beats at UnityPoint Health 

Are you excited to hear your baby’s heartbeat? At UnityPoint Health, we are too! It’s important to make sure that you and your baby are both staying healthy during each trimester. The skilled OB/GYN providers at UnityPoint Health will ensure that both of you are healthy from conception all the way past birth. We are dedicated to your care at every stage of life.

Giving birth to a happy and healthy baby begins with having a healthy pregnancy. Find a UnityPoint Health OB/GYN provider today! UnityPoint Health primary care providers are also available to help with women’s health. If you don’t have an OB/GYN in your area, contact a UnityPoint Health primary care provider.