Fetal Non-Stress Test

March 2, 2010

Pregnancy brings with it myriad changes in a woman's body and life. As the baby grows and develops, a loving bond grows between mother and baby, and the mother can tell so much about her little one, even before the baby is born. Movements are an indication of so may things. Awake times, excitement, playing, and on the other side of things, sometimes distress.

Why Do I Need A Fetal Non-Stress Test?

If a woman has passed her due date, or if the pregnancy is rated as high-risk during the last month or so of gestation, the health care provider may request a non-stress test to ensure everything is okay with the baby. It is called a non-stress test because there is no stress or pressure on the baby. This simple procedure is painless and is a way for the doctor to evaluate the baby's condition. The baby's heartbeat is monitored at rest and then while the baby is moving. The baby's heart rate should increase with movement, which is normal.

A non-stress test may be required if the mother has diabetes and is being treated with insulin, or if she has high blood pressure, or another condition that may affect her pregnancy. Pregnancy hypertension, intrauterine growth restriction, low amniotic fluid and a baby that is less active than normal are all reasons a non-stress test would be administered. Additionally, if the baby was breech and the mother had an external cephalic version (turning the baby), or an amniocentesis in the third trimester to determine the extent of the development of baby's lungs, then the doctor may want to have a non-stress test to ensure the baby is doing fine. Going past the due date is another cause for a non-stress test as the doctor will want to know how the baby is holding up during the time. Finally, if the mother had lost a baby during the later half of the pregnancy from an unknown reason, then the doctor will want to monitor the next pregnancy closely.

How Is The Fetal Non-Stress Procedure Done?

The procedure is very simple and easy. The mother may be asked to eat something small beforehand to stimulate the baby to move around more. It's a good idea to go into the test with an empty bladder since the test can take up to an hour being strapped to a monitor. During the testing, the mother lies on her left side, usually leaning back against a wedge. Two monitors are strapped to her belly, one for the baby's heartbeat and movement, and the other to monitor uterine contractions. The technician listens to the baby's heartbeat and watches the monitor, which the contractions are recorded on a paper that is printed in the monitoring machine. If the baby isn't moving, it could be that s/he is asleep. The technician will nudge baby to get movement, or ask the mother to drink something with the hope of waking the baby.

What Do The Results Mean on a Fetal Non Stress Test?

Reactive results mean that the baby's heart beats faster during movement (at least 15 beats per minute more than the resting heart rate), and when this is measured twice during a 20 minute interval, then everything is normal for the time being. The test may be done again in a week or so. If the baby's heart rate doesn't go up, or if the baby doesn't move for 90 minutes or more, the result is considered to be nonreactive and another test may be given such as a contraction stress test or a biophysical profile.

A nonreactive result may indicate the baby is oxygen-deprived. There may be an issue with the placenta also. If the doctor feels the baby is in distress, there may be a decision to induce labor. If the baby's heart rate drops during a contraction, it may indicate a problem with the placenta which is causing an oxygen shortage.

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