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Biophysical Profile

What is a biophysical profile?

A biophysical profile (BPP) is a way to check the health of your baby some time before birth. An ultrasound test is done to check how the baby is behaving (muscle tone, movements and whether the baby is practicing breathing) and the amount of fluid around the baby. Sometimes a non-stress test is performed. A non-stress test uses a machine called a fetal monitor to watch the baby heart-rate patterns for at least 20 minutes. The non-stress test may be used separately or together with the ultrasound portion of the biophysical profile. The test results are given a score of 0 to 10. This score helps your healthcare provider know more about your baby's health.

When is it used?
If the result of a non-stress test of the baby is nonreactive, a biophysical profile may be done. Nonreactive means that the baby didn't move enough during the test or the baby's heart rate did not change the way it should have when the baby did move. However, sometimes the biophysical profile is used without the non-stress test.

Healthcare providers usually recommend a biophysical profile during the third trimester of high-risk pregnancies. In some high-risk pregnancies a biophysical profile is done once or twice a week. The goal of this testing is to detect problems your baby may have as early as possible.

How do I prepare for a biophysical profile?
Your healthcare provider will discuss the procedure with you and give you any special instructions.

What happens during the procedure?
A non-stress fetal heart rate test is usually performed first. Then detailed ultrasound scanning is done.

The non-stress test uses an external fetal monitor which is attached to your abdomen with belts to look at how the baby's heart rate changes when the baby moves.

  • The score for a non-stress test with a healthy (reactive) result is 2.
  • The score for a test result that is nonreactive is 0.

During the ultrasound exam four things are checked and given a score of 0 or 2:

  • the amount of amniotic fluid
  • movements of the baby's body
  • the baby's muscle tone
  • practice breathing movements made by the baby

What happens after the procedure?
From the results of the tests your healthcare provider will calculate a score for the biophysical profile.

  • A score of 8 or 10 is considered normal.
  • A score of 6 is considered borderline and needs further evaluation.
  • A score of 4 or less suggests there may be problems. Your healthcare provider may recommend an early delivery of the baby.

Your healthcare provider will discuss any necessary treatment with you. Your provider may want to repeat the biophysical profile or deliver the baby earlier than planned.

What are the benefits of this procedure?
The biophysical profile:

  • Helps detect problems the unborn baby might have. When these problems are detected, your provider may decide to deliver the baby before the due date for the baby's safety.
  • May prevent premature birth by giving reassurance that it is safe to continue a pregnancy. A pregnancy may be high risk because, for example, the mother has a chronic illness or other serious problems. These problems could affect the baby. A normal biophysical profile can reassure the mother and provider that the baby is doing OK and the pregnancy can continue until closer to the due date, when the baby will be more mature.
  • Helps reduce the risk of death of the baby after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

What are the risks of this procedure?
There are no known risks associated with this test. The sound waves used for ultrasound scanning are not dangerous.

When should I call my healthcare provider?
Call your healthcare provider during office hours if you have questions about the procedure or its result.

Developed by Phyllis G. Cooper, RN, MN, and RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2008-08-11
Last reviewed: 2008-04-15
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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