Monitoring the fetal heart rate is essential to tracking your baby's growth and development during pregnancy. While in the womb, your baby's heart rate should be 120 and 160 beats per minute, according to MedlinePlus. The heart rate may rise when the baby is moving and drop slightly during a contraction. Doctors monitor the fetal heart rate with medical equipment because you cannot feel the heartbeat on your own.
What You Are Feeling
When you place your hand on your stomach, you may feel a slight, rhythmic movement. What you may mistake for a heartbeat could be your baby's hiccups or kicks. According to BabyCenter, you may feel your baby's hiccups late in the second semester. You should feel kicking between 16 and 22 weeks. Thinner women and women who have already had a baby may notice these fetal movements earlier. If you are not feeling hiccups or kicking, you may be feeling the pulse in your thumb when you place your hand on your belly.
Throughout your pregnancy, your doctor will monitor your baby's heartbeat through a number of external tests. In an external fetal monitoring test, conducting jelly is spread over your abdomen and then electrodes are placed on the abdomen to sense the fetal heart rate and the presence and duration of uterine contractions. The results are printed out or saved on a computer file.
The non-stress test uses the same devices as the external fetal monitoring test. The difference is that if no fetal heart rate is detected after 30 to 40 minutes, the doctor will do something to stimulate the baby, such as giving you something to drink or sending sounds to the fetus. The non-stress test is common in women with high-risk pregnancies or who have gone beyond their due date, cites the Nemours Foundation
When external tests are not working well or the results are suspicious, your doctor may try an internal fetal monitoring test. During this test, your doctor or technician will place an electrode directly on the fetal scalp through the cervix, explains MedlinePlus. You may feel mild discomfort when the electrode is inserted through the cervix.
Abnormal Heart Rate
A number of problems can cause your baby to have an abnormal heart rate on any of the tests. According to MedlinePlus, fetal tests can detect if there is reduced blood flow to the baby, not enough oxygen supply for the baby or not enough oxygen between the uterus and placenta. Infection, fetal distress and incorrect positioning of the baby may cause an abnormal heart rate. Additionally, severe anemia in the baby, fetal heart block and abruptio placenta (separation of the placenta from the site of uterine implantation) may affect the baby's heart rate.
If you want to monitor your baby's heartbeat at home, you may be able to buy or rent a hand-held external fetal heart monitor. However, because fetal heart monitors are supposed to be used by health care professionals and many of these devices have not been approved for medical diagnosis, the Food and Drug Administration and the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine recommend against these devices. In high-risk pregnancies, doctors may prescribe an external fetal heartbeat monitor and teach the patient how to use the device.