Listening to your baby's heartbeat makes the whole pregnancy experience more real, especially early on when you haven't yet begun to show. While it would be a wonderful way to bond, you cannot feel your unborn baby's heartbeat in your stomach or elsewhere in your body during pregnancy. You might feel the pulsing of your own blood vessels in your stomach, which can understandably be mistaken for your baby's heartbeat.
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What You're Feeling
When you feel a pulsating sensation in your stomach during pregnancy, you're most likely feeling the pulse of your abdominal aorta, a large artery that carries oxygen-rich blood from your heart to your lower body. Pregnancy-related circulatory changes make your aortic pulse more noticeable, especially in your second and third trimester. Your blood volume increases 35 to 40 percent and your blood vessels tend to be more relaxed during pregnancy. These changes lead to a more forceful pulse, referred to medically as a bounding pulse. So feeling your aortic pulse in your stomach during pregnancy is common and normal.
Why You Cannot Feel Your Baby's Heartbeat
One of the main reasons you cannot feel your unborn baby's heartbeat in your stomach is its small size. Even at term, your baby's heart is only about the size of a walnut and weighs a mere 2 to 3 ounces. Additionally, your baby is surrounded by extensive cushioning, including the amniotic fluid and your uterus. In short, you cannot feel your unborn baby's heartbeat in your stomach because the force of the contractions of such a tiny heart is imperceptible, especially when dampened by the surrounding fluid and uterine tissue.
Prenatal Listening Monitors and Apps
A number of prenatal listening monitors and even apps are available that are designed to enable you to listen to your unborn baby's heartbeat at home. If you're considering one of these devices or apps, talk with your doctor, nurse or midwife about the potential risks, benefits and limitations.
For example, it can be challenging to find your baby's heartbeat -- but it's very easy to pick up your own. So you might well be listening to your own heartbeat. Additionally, these home devices and apps typically are not able to pick up the fetal heartbeat until late in pregnancy. Finally, there is a risk of unduly alarming yourself if you cannot find your baby's heartbeat.
Reviewed by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.
- Clinical Cardiology Made Easy; Ramesh R. Rau, M.D.
- Kelley's Essentials of Internal Medicine, 2nd Edition; H. David Humes, M.D.
- Circulation: Cardiovascular Physiology of Pregnancy