Measurement of neonatal heart rate using handheld Doppler ultrasound

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This pilot study aimed to determine whether handheld Doppler ultrasound is feasible and reliable for measuring neonatal heart rate (HR) when compared with ECG.


Stable newborns were recruited from the neonatal intensive care unit and postnatal ward between July 2014 and January 2015 at Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, Australia.


Each newborn had their HR recorded every 15 s over 145 s using four different modalities: ECG, counted audible Doppler (AD) over 10 s, pulse oximetry (PO) and the Doppler display (DD).

Outcome measures

The correlation and variation between each modality and ECG.


51 newborns with a median gestational age of 38 weeks (27–41) and a mean weight of 2.78 kg (0.82 to 4.76) with a median postnatal age of 3 days (0–87) were studied. There was a mean difference of 0.69 bpm (95% CI −2.9 to +1.5) between AD-HR and ECG-HR with good correlation between modalities (r=0.94, p<0.01). The median time to achieve AD-HR was 3 s (1–45). The mean difference between DD-HR and ECG-HR was 5.37 bpm (95% CI −12.8 to +2.1) with moderate correlation (r=0.37, p=0.04). The mean difference between PO-HR and ECG-HR was 0.49 bpm (95% CI −1.5 to +0.51) with good correlation (r=0.99, p<0.01). The variability between AD-HR and ECG-HR decreased with decreasing weight.


AD-HR correlates well with ECG-HR. Further research in the delivery room is recommended before using AD-HR in this area.

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