Is a 'fetal heartbeat' really a heartbeat at 6 weeks?

11 states have so far enacted 90 laws to limit abortion in this year's first year since 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.
According to data from Guttmacher Institute (a non-profit organization dedicated to sexual and reproductive health research, advocacy and advocacy), nine states now have laws that prohibit abortions when a fetal beat can be detected or at six weeks.

What does it mean to have a "fetal pulse" during six weeks of pregnancy? Some people may imagine a heart-shaped organ beating within a fetus. However, this is not true.

Instead, ultrasounds can detect "a little bit of flutter" at six weeks into pregnancy. This is Dr. Saima Abtab, who is medical director at Nicklaus Children's Hospital Miami's Fetal Care Center. She explained that the flutter occurs because the cells that will be the "pacemaker" for the heart are able to fire electrical signals.

Related: Are You Pregnant? Early signs of pregnancy

The heart is still not fully formed at this stage. Aftab explained that doctors would not be able to hear a beat if they held a stethoscope in a woman's stomach this early in pregnancy. The baby is not considered a fetus until after the eighth week of pregnancy. Prior to that, the Cleveland Clinic considers it an embryo.

Aftab stated that it's only been in the past few decades that doctors were able to detect the flutter at six weeks. This was thanks to more sophisticated ultrasound technology. The technology was not advanced enough to detect flutter in the early stages of pregnancy.

Aftab stated that although a lot of weight is put on the detection, it does not translate into viability of a pregnancy or viability.

Similar: Having a Baby: The Stages of Pregnancy by Trimester

Before it can fully form, the heart needs to go through a lot of developmental work. Aftab stated that the first trimester is the time of "organogenesis," the formation of organs.

Aftab stated that the heart muscle continues to grow after the six-week detection of the flutter. The heart muscle will continue to develop for four to six more weeks. It will undergo the folding and bending necessary to give the heart its final shape.

She said that "a lot of the heart development" is still ongoing during the first trimester.

Kimberly Hickok, Live Science Reference Editor, updated this article on September 1, 2021. Original publication on Live Science.