Bellabeat: Prenatal Tracking Review
The Bellabeat fetal monitor and connected system allows pregnant women to track their babies' heart beats, kicks and other milestones.
Credit: Bellabeat

The Bellabeat is a fetal tracking app and connected system that allows pregnant women to monitor their pregnancies, listen to their growing babies' heartbeats and even share the sounds with friends.

The app, available for free download through the Apple iTunes store and the Android operating system, allows the motivated parent-to-be to monitor how often the baby moves, and also track the mother's pregnancy weight gain. But unlike other products, Bellabeat also includes a handheld Doppler ultrasound that links to a smartphone. You can use this feature to measure and record the baby's heart rate, and share it with friends and family.

At $129, the Bellabeat costs almost twice as much as most pocket-sized home Doppler monitors, which typically run $25 to $65. Is the system worth the extra price? I took a listen to find out.

Design/comfort: ★★★☆☆

The flip-phone-sized heartbeat monitor for the Bellabeat is slimmer and smaller than most home Doppler fetal monitors. The device comes with a plug to attach to a smartphone, as well as earbuds. Like all fetal heart monitors, this one works best with ultrasound gel, a sticky goop smeared on the belly. [Best Fitness Tracker Brands]

Although the Bellabeat's small size made it more convenient to carry in my purse, the device doesn't work through clothing and needs the ultrasound gel to be used. For that reason, I rarely used it except at home, anyway. The sound quality also seemed lower than the Doppler ultrasounds used at my doctor's office. The earbuds that come with the product didn't fit in my ears, so I had to use my own earphones, which have soft, rubber ear gels.

User friendliness: ★★★★☆

The app has a clean design and was easy to navigate. Separate sections allow moms-to-be to track and chart their own weight gain, as well as their babies' heart rate and movements over time. The app also includes a week-by-week baby development summary. Although this information is readily available on the Web, it was handy to have it on my phone, in one app.

The system provides its own calendar for keeping track of prenatal appointments and milestones, but I preferred to keep those details on my regular calendar, integrated with the rest of my appointments and reminders.

Bellabeat also allows users to share heartbeat recordings with friends via social media. But I was wary of subjecting all of my Facebook friends to the minutiae of my baby's development, so I emailed only one recording, to my partner.

The function for charting fetal movement was one of the most useful aspects of the Bellabeat. As babies grow bigger toward the end of pregnancy, they often get cramped, and so their movements can seem different, or reduced. The Bellabeat provided me with some reassurance that the baby was actually moving a healthy amount, if not with the same free-floating acrobatics I felt earlier in my pregnancy. 

Value of information ★★☆☆☆

The Bellabeat's concept suffers from one important weakness: it's not clear whether worried parents-to-be should be monitoring their baby's heart rate all the time.

Untrained people often can't distinguish between the fetal heartbeat, the mother's blood flow and the whooshing beat of the placenta. Doppler ultrasound monitors also suffer from errors, prone to misrepresenting a baby's true heart rate. An infant's heartbeats also naturally accelerate or drop, so it's unlikely that most moms could monitor heart rate and spot worrisome changes.

The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends women check for at least 10 kicks, movements or rolls in a two-hour-period during the last trimester, and note any changes in movement trends. The app's ability to easily track long-term trends could potentially help parents spot issues such as impaired growth in the baby. But again, it's not clear exactly what trends would be worrisome, beyond a dramatic drop in movement.

The app helpfully breaks down the information in its Articles menu into categories such as pregnancy, breastfeeding and exercise, but the content is vague, poorly written and doesn't cite its scientific evidence. For instance, the article on exercise in pregnancy claims that physical activity has been proven to reduce the risk of preterm labor by 50 percent. However, I could only find one study showing a small association between exercise and a slightly reduced risk of preterm labor — a far cry from a "proven" risk reduction.

The app also lacked a contraction timer that women could use to determine when they should go to the hospital. Though there are several contraction timer apps out there, it would be helpful if this function were located in the same place as all the other pregnancy-related information.

Enjoyment/inspiration ★★★★☆

The Bellabeat app's easy-to-use interface made it fun to access, though (perhaps because this is my second baby) I needed to be reminded to take out the heartbeat ultrasound monitor from time to time. Still, the ability to store and track long-term heart rate and kick count data was an improvement over existing Doppler monitors. And the integrated app was much more convenient and helpful than all the single-function apps on the market.

Conclusion: 13 out of 20 stars

The Bellabeat was a fun and easy-to-use system that made it easier to keep track of many aspects of pregnancy. However, the social function seemed unnecessary, and it's not clear that the information this monitor provides is useful or helpful for most women. In fact, that information could potentially fuel more worry for some moms.

Follow Tia Ghose on Twitter and Google+. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+.