When Can You Hear a Baby's Heartbeat?

If you can't wait to hear baby's heartbeat, don't fret: It won't take long. Here's everything you need to know about your little one's first heartbeats.

Illustration of a baby's heartbeat

Illustration by Daniel Fishel for Parents

If you've just received a positive pregnancy test, you probably have a lot of questions. From "when will I feel my baby kicking" to "when does morning sickness end," you likely have a lot on your mind. But if you're wondering when you'll hear your baby's heartbeat, fear not: The answer may be sooner than you think.

In fact, the "whoosh whoosh" of your little one's earliest cardiac activity is one of the first things doctors look and listen for. This early heartbeat may first be detected by a vaginal ultrasound as early as 5 1/2 to 6 weeks.

Here's everything you need to know about your baby's heartbeat, from how it's monitored to when you can hear it.

When Does a Baby Have a Heartbeat?

Embryonic cardiac activity (that is, the earliest pulses of what will become your baby's cardiac cells) begins approximately 22 days after conception. This initial "heartbeat" won't be detectable yet—even though it's pulsing an average of 110 times a minute. But thanks to ultrasound technology, you (and your doctor) should be able to hear your baby's heartbeat soon.

When Can You Hear a Baby's Heartbeat?

The earliest your baby's cardiac activity can be detected is between five and six weeks gestation. At this early stage in your baby's development, you will actually be seeing the "heartbeat" through an ultrasound image rather than hearing it through a Doppler. This is because your baby is so small that your doctor can only detect the electrical activity through ultrasound.

The ultrasound machine may add sound so you can hear it, but you will also be able to see the fast flicker of the cardiac cells communicating with one another.

If you don't see a heartbeat on the screen at your first visit, don't panic. It could still be too early, especially if you miscalculated how far along you are (which can happen if you have longer-than-normal menstrual cycles). It's because of this common issue that many expectant parents don't see their doctor for an ultrasound until they're a bit farther along in their pregnancies.

How Is Baby's Heartbeat Monitored?

There are numerous ways to detect and/or monitor a baby's heartbeat. Early on, most doctors use transvaginal ultrasounds. These wand-like instruments do an internal scan of your organs, including your uterus—or womb.

As your pregnancy progresses, doctors tend to use fetal Dopplers. These handheld devices can detect your baby's heartbeat as early as 8 weeks, though many variables (such as whether you carry any amount of weight around your mid-section and the position of your uterus) may make it difficult at this early gestational age. Most fetal heart tones can be heard by 10-12 weeks, however.

Regular ultrasounds may also be used to monitor a baby's heartbeat.

Can You Hear Baby's Heartbeat With a Stethoscope?

The short answer is yes, but not at first. A baby's heartbeat cannot be detected with a stethoscope until they are 18 to 20 weeks. Since stethoscopes amplify internal noises, specifically for and of the heart and lungs, you can hear baby's heartbeat using a stethoscope. However, detecting a baby's heartbeat using the method is more challenging than with a fetal Doppler. It will also take patience and time.

Is There an App to Hear Baby's Heartbeat?

While the best method for measuring a baby's heartbeat is a fetal Doppler, apps like My Baby Heartbeat and BabyDoppler can help you monitor, track, and record the sound of your little one's little organ. That said, it's important to note that these apps are not 100% accurate. It is not recommended to use any apps as a replacement for an actual checkup—and you should meet with your health care provider first.

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