Prenatal Testing Basics: Biophysical Profile

Who has it, when, why, and what the results mean.

When is the test taken?

A biophysical profile is usually done in the third trimester, most often as a pregnant woman approaches full term.

Who needs to take the test, and why?

A biophysical profile, in which a non-stress test and a detailed ultrasound are used to assess a baby's well-being, is often given to women with high-risk pregnancies, or in cases when the practitioner has reason to suspect that the fetus may not be thriving. In cases that require close monitoring, the biophysical profile may be repeated once or twice a week. It is also used in place of the contraction stress test when that test might pose a risk to mother or baby.

What does it involve?

The profile has five components. The first is a non-stress test, which measures changes in the heart rate when the fetus moves. The other four components are observations made during an ultrasound, which measures the baby's body movements, breathing movements, muscle tone, and the amount of amniotic fluid in the sac around the baby. Each component is assigned two points, resulting in a score ranging from 0 to 10, with scores from 8-10 considered normal, 6 considered borderline, and below 6 considered problematic. Your practitioner will help you assess the numbers and discuss whether they indicate the need for further testing or some other course of action, which could include early delivery.

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