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Does a Non-Stress Test Sound Stressful?


Has your doctor ordered a non-stress test? Let’s look at what it is, how it’s done, and what it is looking to detect.


First, a non-stress test is done to check on a baby’s health. It is called “non-stress” because the test is non-invasive and nothing is done to place stress on the baby while the test is taking place. There are no risks to mother or baby during a non-stress test.


How is a Non-Stress Test Done?


You do not have to do any special preparation at home. Once at your healthcare provider’s office, you will have your blood pressure taken before the test begins and at regular intervals during the procedure.


While reclining in a chair or on an examination table, you will have a fetal heart rate sensor around your abdomen that measures the baby’s heart rate.


If your baby is active and awake, the test lasts about 20 minutes. It might be extended if the baby is inactive or asleep.


Once the test is over, you will discuss the results immediately.


Why Is a Non-Stress Test Needed?


Your healthcare provider may recommend a non-stress test at about 28 weeks to check on your baby’s health, specifically the oxygen supply. Here are some scenarios in which a woman might have a non-stress test:


  • A history of complications in previous pregnancies

  • Post-term pregnancy

  • Pregnant with multiples and experiencing complications

  • Underlying medical conditions like type-1 diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure

  • Low amniotic fluid

  • Decreased fetal movement

  • Rh (rhesus) sensitization

The test checks how the baby’s heart rate corresponds to his movement. A baby’s heart beats faster later in pregnancy. If the heart rate (when the baby is active) isn’t at this higher rate, it might be an indicator that the baby isn’t getting enough oxygen. The initial test might lead to furthering monitoring or testing.


What Do the Results Mean?


The test results will either be “Reactive” or “Nonreactive.” Reactive means that the baby’s heartbeat is accelerating properly. Nonreactive means the heartbeat did not accelerate at the expected rates. While the baby could have been asleep or inactive, more tests will be ordered to check the baby's health.


It would be Tennessee Family Doulas’ honor to walk with you through all the ups and downs of pregnancy, childbirth, and your early days at home. Our doulas are ready to answer all your questions—or help you find the answers you need! Check out our comprehensive, interactive Childbirth Education classes.


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