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What is a Fetoscope?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The term “fetoscope” can be used to refer to two different medical devices, each of which is designed to provide information about a fetus and how well it is doing inside an expecting mother's uterus. In the first sense, a fetoscope is a type of stethoscope which has been customized for use in listening to the fetal heartbeat. The second sense refers to a type of endoscope utilized in fetoscopy, in which a doctor introduces a camera to the uterus to see the fetus.

In the sense of a type of stethoscope, a fetoscope is most commonly used by midwives. To use the fetoscope, the wearer inserts the ear pieces, places one end on the abdomen of the expecting mother, and cradles his or her forehead in the forehead rest. Once the fetoscope has been moved into the right position, the heartbeat should be audible, allowing the practitioner to determine whether or not the fetus is in good health.

Hospitals usually prefer to use techniques which can allow for hands-off continuous monitoring of pregnant women, rather than having practitioners use a fetoscope. The disadvantage of a fetoscope is that it is very difficult to use continually, and it takes practice to learn to use the device correctly. The advantages are that it is noninvasive, and it tends to allow the mother more freedom of movement, as the practitioner can use it when the mother is in any position.

The endoscopy tool used in fetoscopy is a long, flexible fiberoptic tube with an attached camera. The fetoscope can also be equipped with instruments which can be used to take samples from the fetus or the amniotic fluid. To use the device, the doctor makes a small incision in the abdomen of the woman, inserts the tube, and gathers the necessary data before withdrawing the fetoscope and sewing up the incision.

This device is used in situations where a woman's fetus may have birth defects which cannot be detected with the use of other methods. It can carry a very high risk of miscarriage, up to 12% in some cases, and is therefore only recommended when it is medically necessary. Women who go into the hospital for a fetoscopy should be aware that they will be asked to take muscle relaxants to encourage the fetus to remain calm during the procedure, and they may feel woozy when the fetoscopy is over. Rest is strongly recommended for two weeks following the procedure to reduce the risk of developing complications.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By ElizaBennett — On Oct 21, 2011

@dfoster85 - The doppler certainly is a more recent invention, and it can pick up a fetal heartrate sooner than fetoscopic checking can. The thing that some people don't like about the doppler is that it is actually powered by ultrasound.

So in order for it to work, the ultrasound waves have to penetrate the uterus and reach the fetus. But there is no proof that ultrasound technology is safe.

There's no reason to think it's necessarily unsafe, either, and it has been used for thirty years with no sudden massive increase in problems with babies. But studies have shown that babies do react to ultrasound waves (I forget exactly how). Because of that uncertainly, some people, especially on the "crunchy" end of the spectrum, prefer to avoid ultrasound.

And for the record, ACOG (the professional organization of OB/GYNs) does *not* recommend routine ultrasounds. I don't think they warn against them, either, but they say there's no reason to do them.

By dfoster85 — On Oct 20, 2011

My OB used a doppler to check the fetal heartrate at each of my visits. I even know people who bought one of their own! Now that I think is a little obsessive, but I guess I can see how someone with a history of miscarriage might find it reassuring to check in between visits. Apparently, sometimes the fetus dies but no miscarriage begins and women can go for weeks without knowing anything is wrong. (I can't even imagine.)

He was able to pick up the baby's heart beat at my twelve week visit. I loved hearing that fast woosh-woosh-woosh sound.

So why do some moms and/or midwives prefer the fetoscope (meaning the stethoscope thing)? It sounds outdated compared to the doppler.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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