Expectant mothers — especially those pregnant with their first children — are often greatly concerned with the health of their unborn babies, and understandably so. A fetal Doppler can help allay some of those worries by letting a mother listen to the heartbeat of her child. But the $129 Bellabeat does more than that. This smartphone accessory not only lets you listen in, but can also record the beat so you can track it over the entire term of the pregnancy.
The Bellabeat measures 4.3 x 2.2 x 1.1 inches, and weighs 2.6 ounces with two AAA batteries. Made of off-white plastic, the end with the sensor is rounded and bulges slightly where it comes into contact with the mother's abdomen. On one side are two 3.5mm jacks, one for the included pair of headphones, and one to connect the Bellabeat to your phone with the included cable. Also on the side is a wheel to control the volume and to turn the Bellabeat on and off.
We like that the Bellabeat includes gel for ensuring better contact between the device and the mother's belly. However, we wish the company would also include the two AAA batteries needed to power the device.
How it works
All Doppler-style devices operate on the same principle: They send out high-frequency sound waves, which then bounce back and are picked up by a receiver. Bellabeat uses a frequency of 2MHz, and is approved for continuous use — that is, it won't damage your unborn child's hearing.
We downloaded the app to our iPhone 5s (an Android version is also available), and created a profile that included the mother's age, pre-pregnancy weight and date of conception.
After inserting two AAA batteries into the Bellabeat, we then connected the device to our iPhone using the included 3.5mm cord. Then we spread a liberal amount gel on the device, and placed it on the abdomen of a mother who wanted to try it out.
The Bellabeat is intended for use by mothers in their 12th week of pregnancy or later; we tested the device on a mother-to-be in her 37th week.
After moving the Bellabeat around the abdomen, we were able to pick up the fetus' heartbeat, but only faintly. The line that showed the heartbeat barely twitched. In fact, the Bellabeat picked up ambient noises, such as people talking, more than the baby's heartbeat itself. We also had to keep adjusting the placement of the Bellabeat, as the baby kept moving around.
Users additionally have to be careful that they're picking up the baby's beat, and not the mother's heartbeat or the flow of blood through the placenta.
The app includes a set of instructions outlining what a typical heart rate should be for each week of pregnancy. After 12 weeks, for example, a baby's heart rate should be between 120 and 160 beats per minute.
In addition to measuring your unborn child's heartbeat, the Bellabeat app has several other features. The kick counter measures how much a baby moves inside the womb. The app says that mothers in week 26 or later should feel 10 or more movements in two hours. Belabeat's app also recommends that a mother call a care provider if the baby has not moved 10 times in two hours, or if she notices a significant decrease in her baby's activity.
As Bellabeat notes in the app, the data gathered by the app is not a substitute for a professional examination.
Other features in the app include a weight-gain monitor, a prenatal calendar where you can add events as well as get general information about the developmental progress of a fetus, articles relating to pregnancy (which cover everything from first trimester to baby names) and clinics nearby. However, when we performed a search in the middle of Manhattan, the app returned no results. Belabeat's app also lets you record your baby's heartbeat and post it to Facebook or send it to your doctor.
When you're expecting, you want to make sure you have all the bases covered. While we wish the $129 Bellabeat were more effective at picking up a heartbeat, we like its easy-to-use and feature-packed app. The Bellabeat is also priced competitively with other fetal Dopplers. The NatureSpirit Sonoline-B, which costs $119 at Walgreens, lacks a recording feature. Other options, such as the $499 BabyBeat, don't have a display or a kick counter. For future mothers looking for a little more reassurance, the BellaBeat is a good device.