Women with high-risk pregnancies and those who experience other complications often need a close watch of the fetus for potential problems or complications. Fortunately, there are many tests and procedures to monitor the health of both mother and baby. Many of the tests done to monitor the fetal health pose little or no risk and can provide tremendous amounts of information to physicians and expectant parents.
Who Should Be Monitored?
Your doctor may suggest one or more methods of fetal monitoring to check the growth and health of the fetus. It depends on:
- The stage of your pregnancy
- Your health history
- Results of routine tests
Monitoring provides useful information that will help your doctor decide what treatment is best for you. The goal is to keep you and your baby healthy.
Methods of Monitoring
The following tests are used to monitor the well-being of the fetus:
Fetal Movement and Kick Count
In late pregnancy, you may be asked to keep track of how often you feel your baby move. This is called a kick count. A number of methods are used. A common one is to record the length of time it takes for the baby to make 10 movements.
The nonstress test is a noninvasive test that measures the heart rate of the fetus in response to its own movements. Usually the baby's heart beats faster when the baby moves (acceleration). Such changes in the fetal heart rate have been shown to be a sign of good health.
The mother is placed on a bed and belts are strapped around her abdomen measuring the fetus' heart rate and contractions. If the baby does not move for a time during the nonstress test, it does not always mean there is a problem. The baby may be asleep.
The biophysical profile combines an ultrasound with a nonstress test. Most often, five factors of the fetus are studied:
- Heart rate
- Body movement
- Muscle tone
- Amount of amniotic fluid
Each of these items is given a score between 0 and 2. The scores are added. The total score will help decide whether you need special care or whether your baby should be born sooner than planned.
Contraction Stress Test
The contraction stress test measures how the fetal heart rate reacts when the uterus contracts. Contractions are brought on during the test and mimic what occurs during labor.