What is a biophysical profile?
A biophysical profile is a simple, painless test that is performed during pregnancy to assess the baby’s well-being specifically, whether he is getting enough oxygen in the womb. It is typically done if the expecting mother has gone past the due date. It can also be used sometime in the third trimester if the expecting mother is having a high-risk pregnancy. A biophysical profile is done for the following reasons:
- If the expecting mother has diabetes that is treated with medication, gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, or some other medical condition that could affect the pregnancy.
- If the expecting mother has gestational hypertension.
- The baby appears to be small or not growing properly.
- The baby is less active than normal.
- If the expecting mother has too much or too little amniotic fluid. Your doctor will order a non-stress that to make sure that the baby’s doing well.
- If the expecting mother is past the due date and the doctor wants to see how the baby is holding up during this extended stay in the womb.
- If the expecting mother has previously lost a baby in the second half of the pregnancy for an unknown reason or because of a problem that might happen again in this pregnancy.
- If the expecting mother or the baby has a condition that needs to be monitored.
What’s the procedure like?
You may be advised to eat a meal just before the test in the hope that eating will stimulate your baby to move around more. (Although there’s no hard evidence that this works, it can’t hurt.) It’s also a good idea to use the bathroom beforehand, because the test may take up to an hour.
The test starts with an ultrasound to observe your baby’s body movements, muscle tone (flexing the arms and legs), and breathing movements (the baby’s ability to move her chest muscles and diaphragm), and the amount of amniotic fluid surrounding her.
Depending on the results of the ultrasound, your caregiver may follow it with a nonstress test to assess whether your baby’s heart rate changes when she’s moving. For this, you lie on your left side and a technician straps two devices to your belly: One monitors your baby’s heartbeat and movement, and the other records contractions in your uterus. The technician listens to and watches your baby’s heart beating on an electronic screen.
What do the results mean?
Each of the five components – body movements, muscle tone, breathing movements, amniotic fluid, and heartbeat – is assigned a score of either 0 (abnormal) or 2 (normal). These are added up for a total score ranging from 0 to 10. In general, a total score of 8 or 10 is normal, 6 is considered borderline, and below 6 is worrisome
If all the ultrasound scores are normal, your practitioner may decide not to do the nonstress test. But if the amount of amniotic fluid scores a 0, your baby will need more testing and you may need to deliver right away (particularly if you’re near 37 weeks) – even if the other things they looked at seemed fine.
If your practitioner is concerned about your baby’s well-being, you may be sent to the hospital for closer observation and further testing. If she thinks your baby isn’t doing well and needs to be delivered, you’ll be induced or have a c-section.