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Biophysical Profile: About This Test

Ultrasound of a pregnant woman's belly

What is it?

A biophysical profile (BPP) measures the health of your baby during your pregnancy. The BPP checks your baby's heart rate, muscle tone, movement, and breathing. It also measures the amount of amniotic fluid around your baby. Looking at these five areas helps your doctor know how well your baby is doing.

Why is this test done?

A BPP is often done in the last trimester of pregnancy when there is any question about how the baby is doing. Some women with high-risk pregnancies may have a BPP test every week or twice a week during later pregnancy.

How do you prepare for the test?

  • If you smoke, you will be asked to stop smoking for 2 hours before testing. This is because smoking affects the baby's heart rate and movements.
  • You may be asked to drink water or other liquids just before testing. You will be able to empty your bladder after the test.

How is the test done?

The BPP has two parts. First you have a non-stress test, and then you have a fetal ultrasound. For the tests, you will lie back on a padded exam table. If you become short of breath or light-headed while lying on your back, say so. The technician can help you change your position.

Non-stress test

  • 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. 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 look at how your baby's heart reacts to movement and contractions.
  • If there isn't much movement, it may be because the baby is asleep. If this happens during your test, the technician may try to wake the baby with a loud noise or by having you eat or drink something.

Fetal ultrasound

  • A gel will be spread on your belly. This helps the passage of sound waves.
  • A small, hand-held sensor will be pressed against the gel on your skin and moved across your belly a few times.
  • You may be able to watch the screen to see the picture of your baby during the test.

How long does the test take?

  • The non-stress test will take about 20 to 40 minutes.
  • The fetal ultrasound will take about 30 to 60 minutes.

What happens after the test?

  • The doctor will read the results from the test and talk to you about them. 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.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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