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Obstetrics and Gynecology

Monitoring Fetal Health During Pregnancy

Early prenatal care gives your doctor a chance to check on your health and the progress of your pregnancy. Your doctor also checks on the well-being of your fetus (the baby growing in your uterus). Based on the results of routine prenatal care, your doctor may suggest tests to check the health of the baby. Most of the time, these tests help assure you and your doctor that all is going well. If problems arise, the tests may pinpoint them early.

How Does Monitoring Work?
Monitoring may be done during pregnancy to help assess the health, activity level and growth of the fetus.

Some of the tests used for monitoring check the movement, heartbeat, blood flow and rate of growth of the fetus. Some tests show an image of the baby in the uterus.

The results of monitoring may assure you and your doctor all is going well.

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:

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:

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.

Ultrasound Exam
An ultrasound exam is a test in which pictures of the fetus are made from sound waves. From this exam, your doctor can learn about the baby and its health.

Nonstress Test
The nonstress test measures the heart rate of the fetus in response to its own movements. Usually the baby's heart beats faster when the baby moves. Such changes in the fetal heart rate have been shown to be a sign of good health.

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.

Biophysical Profile
The biophysical profile combines an ultrasound with a nonstress test. Most often, five factors of the fetus are studied:

  1. Heart rate
  2. Breathing
  3. Body movement
  4. Muscle tone
  5. Amount of amniotic fluid
Each of these items is given a score. 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.

For results to be obtained, three contractions must occur during a 10-minute period, and each must last about 40 seconds.



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