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Non-Stress Test: About This Test

What is it?

A non-stress test is a test that checks your baby's heartbeat patterns. It can show heart rate changes when the baby moves. It also shows changes when you have contractions, if you're having them. A fetal heart rate that speeds up when the baby moves means the baby is getting enough oxygen.

Why is this test done?

A non-stress test is often done when there is any question about how the baby is doing during later pregnancy. For high-risk pregnancies, this test may be done every week or twice a week in the third trimester.

Sometimes a non-stress test is done together with a fetal ultrasound. This is called a biophysical profile (BPP).

How do you prepare for the test?

Empty your bladder before the test. If you smoke, you will be asked to stop smoking for 2 hours before the test. This is because smoking affects your baby's heart rate and movements.

How is the test done?

For the test, you will lie back on a padded exam table.

  • Two elastic belts with sensors are placed across your belly. One sensor tracks your baby's heart rate with reflected sound waves (Doppler ultrasound). The other sensor measures how long your contractions are, if you are having any.
  • You may hear your baby's heartbeat as a beeping sound. Or you may see it printed out on a chart.
  • You may be asked to push a button on the machine when your baby moves or you have a contraction. This helps your doctor or midwife look at how your baby's heart reacts to movement and contractions.
  • If there isn't much movement, it can be because the baby is asleep. If this happens during your test, the doctor, midwife, or technician may try to wake the baby with a loud noise or by having you eat or drink something.

How long does the test take?

  • The test takes about 20 to 40 minutes. It depends on how quickly your baby becomes active.

What happens after the test?

  • Before you leave, your doctor or midwife will tell you how your baby seems to be doing. You will also find out if more testing is needed.
  • You will probably be able to go home right away. It depends on the reason for the test.
  • You can go back to your usual activities right away.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to keep a list of the medicines you take. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.