When Can You Hear Your Baby’s Heartbeat With a Stethoscope?

You should be able to hear your baby’s heartbeat with a stethoscope during your 20th week of pregnancy. When you’re ready to listen to your baby’s heartbeat make sure you pick a quiet location, lay down, find your babies back by pressing lightly on your abdomen and finally press the stethoscope to your stomach.


One of the most excitement-inducing sounds expecting parents will hear, from the moment they set their eyes on the two colored lines of a positive pregnancy test, is the baby’s heartbeat.

As expecting parents, when should you plan to hear your baby’s heartbeat with a stethoscope?

Not only is listening to the baby’s heartbeat with a stethoscope exciting, but it is also reassuring. It can also help calm any anxieties you may have related to the health of your baby.

You can hear your baby’s heartbeat with a stethoscope after the 20th week. Before 20 weeks of pregnancy, the fetal heartbeat is just too small for you to listen to with a stethoscope.

Where Can I Purchase a Stethoscope?

  • Medical Supply Stores
  • Drug Stores
  • Online

Does Quality Matter?

Yes, like everything else, not all stethoscopes are made the same. Before you decide which one to purchase, read the product description and reviews to get one that has high ratings and seems like it will meet your needs.

The most important thing is getting the highest acoustic and audibility quality you can for a reasonable price. Another thing to look for is a stethoscope with a larger tube.

A larger tube will allow the sound to travel to the earpiece quicker than a stethoscope with a smaller tube.

How Do I Use a Stethoscope to Hear my Baby’s Heartbeat?

1. Pick a Quiet Location

Find a comfortable spot to sit in a room by yourself. The less background noise, the easier it will be for you to hear your baby’s heartbeat.

Even the sound of the radio and television can be distracting and can muffle the heartbeat, so make sure all devices are turned off or muted.

2. Lay Down

You will want to lie down on a soft surface like the couch or your bed.

3. Find Baby’s Back

The best place to find the fetal heartbeat is your baby’s back. You should be able to find their back by feeling your stomach for a hard, yet smooth section.

Remember that your baby’s position will change, so if you are having trouble finding their back, try again later.

4. Put the Chest Piece on Your Stomach

Once you find the baby’s back, put the stethoscope’s chest piece on this area of your stomach, and begin listening through the earpiece.

Your baby’s heartbeat might even sound like a ticking watch muffled by a pillow. If you cannot hear it, try moving the chest piece up and down slowly and see if you can pick up the heartbeat.

A Normal Heartbeat

In addition to just hearing a heartbeat, you can also listen to your baby to check their fetal heart rate when you use a stethoscope.

According to guidelines set by The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a healthy fetal heart rate should range between 120 and 160 beats per minute.

Even though a standard fetal heart rate caps at 160 beats per minute, it will continue to accelerate to 170 to 200 beats per minute when you are just over two months pregnant (more specifically, the beginning of your 9th week of pregnancy).

After your baby’s fetal heart rate reaches that high level, it will begin to slow back down to normal fetal heart rate levels between 120 and 160 beats per minute.

Another essential thing to note is that both genders have similar fetal heart rate ranges, making things a little easier for parents to learn and remember.

Knowing the normal fetal heart rate range will also help you tell the difference between hearing your own heartbeat or baby’s heartbeat.

What To Do If You Can’t Hear Your Baby?

First of all, don’t go into panic mode as easy as this can be. Listening to your baby’s heartbeat with a stethoscope at home is just one method that is certainly not foolproof.

Here are three things that might be affecting your ability to hear your baby’s heartbeat with a stethoscope.

Baby’s Position

Even though you get into position to use a stethoscope, your little one might not follow suit. Your baby has no clue what is happening, and will not move to help you find them.

It may even seem like you are playing the game “Where’s Waldo,” without being able to look for red, especially when they are still so small.

Their position is likely affecting your ability to hear their heartbeat. If you cannot get the chest piece on their back, it will be challenging to hear their heartbeat.

Pregnancy Timeline

Another reason you might not be able to hear your baby’s heartbeat is that you aren’t quite as far in the pregnancy as you think you are.

Remember that you will usually not be able to hear the baby’s heartbeat before 20 weeks of pregnancy, so it might just be too early.

Placement of the Placenta

The placenta may be in the way. Mom can either have an interior or anterior placenta. With anterior placentas, the placenta is attached to the front of the uterine wall below the mother’s belly.

If this is the case, the heartbeat will be harder to find. The blood flow through the placenta may be all the stethoscope can pick up. At your prenatal visits, even the doctor may have trouble finding the heartbeat.

As your baby grows and their heartbeat speeds up and strengthens, this will become less of an issue.

If you are having trouble hearing your baby’s heartbeat, try again later. If you are concerned, you should always talk to your doctor. They have the experience and training to be able to provide advice and diagnose any problems. Using a stethoscope can be an enjoyable experience, so try not to let anything you hear or don’t hear ruin that experience!

Diagnosing Congenital Heart Defects

Expecting parents should find comfort in knowing that it is not their job to listen for, or diagnose congenital heart defects when they listen to their baby’s heartbeat at home with a stethoscope.

Your doctor does this for you during your second-trimester ultrasound. It is also called the 20-week anatomy scan.

During this scan, your doctor will check the structure of your baby’s heart and look for any problems that might signal the presence of a congenital heart defect.

Congenital heart defects are the most common major birth disorder, so you shouldn’t blame yourself if the doctor happens to detect one.

Nine out of every 1,000 babies born each year have a congenital heart defect. Early detection and treatment are key, and most congenital heart defects can be repaired or managed.

Hearing Baby’s Heartbeat Sooner

Fetal Doppler

If you think that 20 weeks is longer than you want to wait, you are in good company with other expecting parents who feel the same way. The good news is that a fetal doppler ultrasound machine detects a fetal heartbeat as early as 12 weeks since conception.

This machine sends sound waves towards a baby’s heart and then uses the reflected sound to amplify the sound made by the baby’s heart.

So while you will have to wait till 20 weeks from conception to hear baby’s heartbeat with a stethoscope at home, you will likely have already gotten to hear baby’s heartbeat around 12 weeks from conception at your prenatal visit thanks to the fetal Doppler ultrasound machine.

You can purchase your own fetal doppler, but be aware that these devices are expensive and aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for at-home use.

They have not been approved by the FDA due to limited evidence on both the device’s safety and effectiveness. Your best bet is to leave the use of the fetal doppler to the medical professionals at your prenatal visits.

Also, waiting until week 20 of your pregnancy will allow you to safely listen to your baby’s heartbeat at home using a stethoscope.

Other At-Home Tools

Apps

Several apps claim to detect a fetal heartbeat. These apps utilize your cellphone’s built-in microphone to listen to your baby’s heartbeat.

Similar to fetal doppler machines, fetal heartbeat apps are not approved by the FDA. They also have limited evidence regarding effectiveness.

A study conducted in 2019 tested 22 of these apps claiming you could listen to your baby’s heartbeat, and they found that none of the apps were able to find the fetal heartbeat accurately.

Now, these apps were ones that were free, meaning expecting parents did not have to purchase extra accessories for any in-app purchases.

Perhaps the fetal heartbeat apps with some additional costs would provide better results, but there is no guarantee.

Quick Answer

You should be able to hear your baby’s heartbeat with a stethoscope during week 20 of your pregnancy.

When you’re ready to listen to your babies heartbeat make sure you:

  1. Pick a quiet location
  2. Lay down on a comfortable location
  3. Find your babies back by pressing lightly on your abdomen
  4. Press the stethoscope to your stomach

It can provide expecting parents some much-needed comfort and reassurance along the pregnancy journey.

The ability to listen to your baby’s heartbeat at home is an exciting and intimate experience. Happy listening!