Pros: Great concept, fun gadget, involves partner in pregnancy
Cons: We never heard an actual heartbeat
My husband knows me all too well. I am a first-class worrier, and he knew that my being pregnant aggravated this preexisting condition beyond belief. You see, my little guy was quite stubborn. Contrary to all of the charts that indicated the number of times he should move each hour, my son would be still for literally hours at a time. Couple this with the fact that it was my first pregnancy and you have the perfect recipe for a nervous wreck. Knowing that I was only in my 5th month and that he would need to coexist with me in my pregnant state until the following May, my husband purchased the Unisar Bebe Sounds Prenatal Heart Listener for me as a Christmas gift.
My husband actually stumbled upon this product by accident when he was shopping for my very first maternity outfit at a local clothing store. (He picked a great outfit, by the way!) As I opened the gift, he was absolutely brimming with pride at having found a solution to my incessant questioning of "What's going on in there? Why isn't he moving?" (His second choice would probably have been installing a direct phone line between the doctor and myself.) I have to admit that I was pretty excited and tore into the package, eager to try Bebe Sounds out right then and there.
Upon opening the plastic, we were greeted with several warnings that we must read all of the directions before trying out Bebe Sounds. No problem. I'm one of those people who generally reads every line of the directions, right up to and including the warranty, so I happily sat down with the 15-page instruction manual.
Spelled out very clearly in front of me were lots of conditions that had to be met in order for Bebe Sounds to work. First and foremost, the manual stated that you must be patient. The product works best late in the second trimester and beyond, and recognizing exactly what you're hearing can take some practice. Successful use, especially in hearing the heartbeat as opposed to other sounds (like hiccups) depends upon several other factors: a quiet room, the baby's position, amount of time since you last ate (3-4 hours is recommended), the baby's weight, and your weight (though no weight guidelines are ever mentioned). All of these specifications certainly brought me back down to earth, as I realized that I wasn't necessarily going to hear my little one's heartbeat that day. After reading all of the directions, however, we were still anxious to try out our new toy.
The Trial Run
The Bebe Sounds kit includes one pair of headphones, the monitor itself, a foam cover, and a recording cable. It was very easy for a beginner to operate the unit itself, which consists of an on/off switch, a volume control dial, an activation button, a listening cone (over which you place the foam cover), and a headphone jack. The monitor is white, trimmed in blue and fits easily in one hand.
In reading the instruction manual, we learned that what seemed to us like an amazing, new piece of technology was really quite a simple little device. Unlike the Doppler ultrasound equipment which is used at the doctor's office, Bebe Sounds is really just a souped-up stethoscope (a Bell stethoscope, according to the manual). In fact, since receiving this gift I have even read articles which recommended buying a plain old stethoscope in order to hear your baby's heartbeat. Who knew? This was our first pregnancy, and I guess we had just assumed that this product was some new innovation. On the good side, though, is the fact that, new-fangled or not, this device is completely safe for mother and child. It can be used again and again and again, throughout the pregnancy.
After plugging in the headphones and inserting a 9-volt battery, we were ready to give Bebe Sounds a whirl. We had pretty low expectations, given that I was only in my 5th month and the directions had stated that it worked best at or beyond the second trimester. Attempting to follow the directions to the letter, we made sure that the cone was touching bare skin (thank goodness for that foam cover!), pressed (and held in) the activation button, and tried to reduce the static as much as possible by keeping the volume at a fairly low level. And we heard...nothing remotely recognizable. We were OK with that, though. The manual had assured us that with a little patience and practice, hearing the sounds would be easier all the time. And we had fun listening to my heartbeat!
If At First You Don't Succeed...
I'm a pretty persistent person, so I was bound and determined to keep playing with this monitor until it worked. We kept using Bebe Sounds several times a week, listening for anything and everything that we could possibly hear. As the months passed, we did eventually start to hear something Our manual said that we would be able to hear hiccups ("two rapid, soft drumbeats"), kicks ("a series of uneven thumps"), and nutrients passing through the placenta ("a whooshing sound"). I'm happy to say that we did hear those things, or at least we think we did. After all, who's to say exactly what that whooshing was. We heard noises, nonetheless, and it made us feel that much closer to our little, unborn baby. The sound I was waiting for, the "very soft rapidly beating drum or a galloping horse" that the manual had described, still eluded us, however.
At one of my check-ups, I finally remembered to ask the doctor for his help in using our little stethoscope and was surprised to find that he couldn't get it to work either. (And I must admit that I felt a little bit vindicated by this!) He said that another couple had recently asked him to try it out but that he had been unable to find the heartbeat. This turn of events brought to light, of course, the simple fact that there's a reason why the Doppler technology was invented. It works better! Though Unisar emphasizes in the booklet that you'll be hearing "natural sound" that is amplified, it's just plain tricky to hear it.
In the end, we were never able to hear our little boy's heartbeat. He arrived nine days early, which did prevent us from using it down to the wire, but I really don't think it would have made a difference. We just had to settle for the whooshing of nutrients!
A Few More Nuts and Bolts
If you do happen to be successful at hearing your baby's heartbeat, this kit provides you with a recording cable for preserving those sounds. Just connect it to your own tape player, and you can transfer those amazing little beats to a cassette. The manual also suggests that you may want to record a 30-minute tape of your own heartbeat, to use in comforting the baby after he or she arrives. Though I didn't do that, I will definitely consider it the next time around.
Unisar stressed that Bebe Sounds is not to be used for medical purposes and should not replace visits with the doctor.
Finally, Bebe Sounds is subject to a 90-day warranty. Since it is a "personal care product," however, it cannot be returned to your retailer. A phone number is provided for you to call in the event that your monitor is defective.
Despite the fact that we were never able to hear our baby's heartbeat, I would still give this product three stars and a recommendation. Why? Well, we did hear some sounds. Though they weren't the sounds I had so desperately wanted to hear, they were still a neat window into the life of the little baby I had yet to meet. They were especially fun for my husband, who got to hear the hiccups and kicks that I was feeling. But most importantly, I recommend the Unisar Bebe Sounds Prenatal Heart Listener because of the great memories I have of my husband and I sitting together, listening for the baby and dreaming of our future with him. Using this gadget forced us to slow down, relax, and just to enjoy the moment. Recommending this product is sort of like recommending a game at which you couldn't win but were so glad you played! When I asked my husband for his opinion, he agreed. It would be hard not to recommend it, he said, because using it was so much fun. We've tucked it away and will try it out again, should we be lucky enough to find ourselves expecting another child.
So in the end, I don't consider this product to be a must-have, and in fact, I would recommend that you buy everything else that you think you're going to need for the baby before you think about purchasing this. But if you have a little extra cash left over and are curious about "what's going on in there," buying this product (or one like it) sure won't hurt. And who knows? Maybe you'll be lucky and get to hear that little heartbeat. At worst, you'll get some whooshing!