Biophysical Profile

A complete fetal ultrasound for late pregnancy

Ultrasound is an extremely helpful tool at the beginning of pregnancy, but it can be just as useful in the days leading up to your delivery. A biophysical profile uses ultrasound to evaluate different aspects of your baby's health and can provide a good deal of insight into whether or not labor should be induced. It's a particularly good tool for high-risk pregnancies, if a problem is suspected in the last weeks of pregnancy or if you go past your due date. The best part about this test is that it poses no direct risk to you or your baby; in some high-risk cases, a BPP will be conducted once or twice a week in the last weeks of the third trimester. Learn what you can expect during a biophysical profile, how you baby's wellbeing is measured and where to go from there.

Tracking Fetal Movement with BPP

The test isn't invasive, and you should remain fairly comfortable while the technician uses a transducer and an ultrasound monitor to observe your baby's body movements, his breathing movements and the environment in your womb. If the movements seem regular and frequent and there is no sign of a low amniotic fluid level, your baby is considered to be healthy, though you may need to come back in a few days or weeks for another test to make sure everything is still on track.

Since this is primarily a visual test, the accuracy of the results will rest on the skill and attention of the doctor or radiologist, and there is a chance that a complication could slip by unnoticed. For this reason, a BPP will often be paired with a nonstress test for a closer look at how your baby's heart rate responds to her movements. However, different doctors may choose to combine different tests with the basic BPP, and in some cases, a stress test (also known as oxytocin challenge) may be ordered.

What Do Low Biophysical Profile Scores Mean?

The BPP will test your baby in five different categories: breathing movement, body movement, muscle tone, heart rate (revealed in the nonstress test) and the volume of amniotic fluid surrounding her. Your doctor will give 2 points for a normal result and no points for an abnormal result -- a total score of 8 to 10 points indicates a healthy baby. If your baby scores between 6 and 8, you'll probably need another BPP the next day, but more testing will be ordered right away if your baby earns less than 4 points to determine the cause of the decreased fetal movement.

Although it is cause for concern, don't despair if the BPP results aren't as great as you had hoped. The baby's position, an excess of fat on your abdomen, abnormal blood sugar and certain medicine can interfere with accuracy, so it's quite possible that your results will be different if you take the test again. On the other hand, if further testing shows that your baby isn't thriving, you may need to deliver right away. Luckily, most women who have a BPP are well into their third trimester, and there's a very good chance that the baby could survive if she need to be delivered early.