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Contraction Stress Test

A contraction stress test checks to see if your unborn baby (fetus) will stay healthy during the reduced oxygen levels that normally occur during contractions when you are in labor. This test includes external fetal heart monitoring camera.gif. The test is done when you are 34 or more weeks pregnant.

During a uterine contraction, the blood and oxygen supply to your baby drops for a short time. This is not a problem for most babies. But the heart rate of some babies gets slower. This change in heart rate can be seen on the external fetal monitoring device.

For a contraction stress test, the hormone oxytocin is given to you in a vein (intravenously, or IV) to cause labor contractions. You may also massage your nipples. This tells your body to release oxytocin. If your baby's heart rate slows down (decelerates) in a certain pattern after a contraction instead of speeding up (accelerating), your baby may have problems with the stress of normal labor.

A contraction stress test is usually done if you have an abnormal nonstress test or biophysical profile. A biophysical profile uses ultrasound during a nonstress test to measure a series of physical characteristics of your baby. You may have more than one contraction stress test during your pregnancy.

Some doctors may do a biophysical profile or a Doppler ultrasound test instead of a contraction stress test.

Why It Is Done

A contraction stress test is done to check:

  • If your baby will stay healthy during the reduced oxygen levels that normally occur during contractions during labor.
  • If the placenta is healthy and can support your baby.

A contraction stress test may be done when results from a nonstress test or a biophysical profile are not in the normal range.

How To Prepare

You may be asked to not eat or drink for 4 to 8 hours before the test. Empty your bladder before the test.

If you smoke, stop for 2 hours before the test because smoking can lower your baby's activity and heart rate.

You will be asked to sign a consent form before a contraction stress test. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).

How It Is Done

A contraction stress test may be done in your doctor's office or hospital by a family medicine doctor or an obstetrician and a trained laboratory technician or nurse. You usually do not need to stay overnight.

During the test, you will lie on a bed with your back raised. You will be tilted a little to your left side so you will not have pressure on the blood vessels in your belly. Two belts with sensors will be placed around your belly. One belt holds the sensor that records your baby's heart rate; the other sensor measures your uterine contractions. Gel may be used on your skin with the heart rate sensors. The sensors are hooked to a recording unit. The heart rate monitor may be moved if your baby changes position. Your baby's heart rate and your contractions are recorded for 10 minutes. Your blood pressure and other vital signs are also recorded.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 18, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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