What Is a Non-Stress Test?

You are settled in comfortably at your doctor's office (well, as comfortable as any woman near the end of her pregnancy can be) when he breaks some news to you. 

“I'm going to have you head over to the hospital for a Non-Stress Test,” he announces nonchalantly. “I just want to see how baby's doing a little more closely, so let's get you on your way.”

He says it so casually, and yet you feel panic overwhelm you. Non-Stress? You're feeling especially stressed at the moment, that much is for sure!

So just what is a Non-Stress Test, and what does it mean for your baby?

nst
Image via Flickr/ Daquella manera

Basically, a Non-Stress Test is a test to check how well your baby is doing inside of the womb.

Because a baby can't tell us how things are going in there (Hi, Mom!), healthcare practitioners and staff use a baby's heart rate as a sort of “clue” to measuring how healthy the baby is. 

{ MORE: Where's the Strangest Place You've Ever Taken a Pregnancy Test? }

Obviously, it's not the only indicator of the health and well-being of your baby, but a baby in obvious distress will show signs in his or her heartbeat, so it's a very reliable test to see if anything major is going on.  

Your doctor might send you to the hospital for a Non-Stress Test (called an “NST” by staff) or simply have you hooked up right in the doctor's office. You will be hooked up to a monitor that will pick up if you're having any contractions and a monitor that tracks the baby's heartbeat. You will also be given a “clicker” that you will be instructed to hit anytime you feel the baby move or kick. 

If you are over 32 weeks, your nurse will be watching for two things for you to “pass” your Non-Stress Test:

1) two instances in which your baby's heartbeat goes up by 15 beats for at least 15 seconds duration,

and

2) at least two “kick” clicks from you.  

The test is performed over the course of 25-30 minutes, largely in part due to babies' sleep patterns. Many times, babies in the womb will be asleep and “fail” the test, so running the test over a 20-minute span can help to counteract their natural sleep patterns. 

So what does it mean?

The kick counts, obviously, means that your baby is moving around in there. What's more important, though, is how your baby's heart rate reacts with his or her movement. Because a baby's heart rate is controlled by the nervous system, the fact that your baby is able to respond to stimuli or through action by raising the heart rate indicates that things are working properly. Good heart rate = happy baby. 

{ MORE: Women are DIYing Their Own Toothpaste Pregnancy Tests }

Why could you need an NST?

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There are a few reasons, according to the American Pregnancy Association, why your doctor might order you to have a one-time or reoccurring NST test, such as:

  • gestational diabetes
  • multiples or twin pregnancies
  • complaints that you haven't felt the baby move
  • measurements are too small or too large for your dates
  • you're overdue

Did you have a Non-Stress Test when you were pregnant?

What do you think?

What Is a Non-Stress Test?

Chaunie Brusie is a writer, mom of four, and founder of The Stay Strong Mom, a community + gift box service for moms after loss. ... More

Tell us what you think!

7 comments

  1. LaTasha says:

    YES… Due to becoming hypertensive, not really feeling Lexi move that much, and having had a car accident during my 8th month, I began having an NST done weekly on Fridays, separately from my regular doctor visits… Which I perferred and enjoyed because I got to see how Lexi was doing on a more regular basis!! Lexi was born happy, active, and healthy on Dec. 26, 2013 (my day after Christmas… Kwanzaa baby girl) weighing 5lbs 9.6oz, because she just couldn’t wait until her due date which was Jan. 14, 2014!! NOW I’M PREGNANT AGAIN… YAY!! So, I will be reporting back soon because I’m only about 1 month along right now. This will be baby number 3… My oldest is 14 and her name is Niyah.

  2. Jean says:

    I’m 32 weeks going on 33 weeks and I’m going to start having them weekly because she only had one umbilical artery instead of two. I’m hoping they also do my weekly prenatal visit at the same time.

  3. quinn says:

    I am 33 weeks and I get a NST test on a weekly basis due to high blood pressure. Luckily, I am able to do them during my weekly visits at the doctor’s office.

  4. Stacy says:

    I had gestational diabetes with my daughter. I had to have a NST every week from about 30 weeks until I had her. I had one last NST just before my doctor induced labor when I was 39 weeks pregnant. It made me a little nervous when I had my first one because I didn’t know what the test was for but it became routine every Friday to check to see how my little girl was doing.

  5. I just had that done yesterday! I haven’t been feeling well for a few days, and when I went to my appt, I started having hot flashes, and felt like I was going to pass out. I’m being seen and having ultra sounds every week, to keep track of baby’s movements. Anyways she was moving like crazy, which wasn’t helping me feel any better. I told dr. And he checked me and said I was 1cm dilated. The stress test showed I was having real contractions!! I. Was wondering why the BH were starting to hurt some.

  6. Melissa says:

    I had one only with my first because she was 2 weeks overdue. Everything was fine.

  7. mommy nhoj says:

    I did once when I had ultrasound and said water is only about 5%. Baby’s fine and we believe that utz results was incorrect to begin. I obseved baby’s kick with a clicker. I tried to be as calm as possible and glad we’re both fine. Repeat ultrasound that day shown water was about 11%

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