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?
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.
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,
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.
Why could you need an NST?
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?