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Fetal Assessment Tests

The Fetal Assessment Center (FAC) offers a number of specialized tests to help determine any potential problems with the baby’s health or delivery.

Advanced Obstetrical Ultrasound

Ultrasound is a painless noninvasive procedure used to help examine the developing fetus within the uterus. Standard ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to generate two-dimensional images that can be seen on a computer screen. Standard ultrasound can detect some, but not all, abnormalities; therefore, a normal ultrasound does not absolutely mean that a fetus is healthy and without defects.

Sometimes standard ultrasound may detect suspicious signs that a fetus is at higher risk for birth defects. In such cases, the physician may recommend advanced obstetrical ultrasound, which provides images of the fetus in three dimensions rather than two. The 3-D images show more details of the fetus’s anatomy. If an abnormality is detected, 3-D ultrasound may help clarify the extent of a suspected genetic abnormality that could not otherwise be diagnosed. With 3-D, more detail is visible as early as the first trimester.

Your FAC physician will recommend advanced obstetrical ultrasound only if it is medically necessary. There are no known risks associated with ultrasound. A patient who undergoes advanced obstetrical ultrasound during the first three months of pregnancy must do so with a full bladder to get a better image.


Amniocentesis is a procedure in which the physician, with the assistance of a nurse, inserts a very thin needle through the mother’s abdomen into the fluid surrounding the baby to withdraw a small amount of fluid, which is then sent to a lab for testing. Amniocentesis can determine whether or not the baby’s lungs are mature, and it can detect Down’s syndrome, neural tube defects, and a number of genetic and chromosomal disorders. Amniocentesis can also confirm the sex of your baby.

Complications from amniocentesis are possible, so you should discuss the risks with your physician at the FAC.

Fetal Heart Rate/Well-Being Tests

Two types of tests may be used to evaluate the well-being of the fetus (the baby before it is born):

  • Non-stress test – a procedure that measures changes in the fetal heart rate to determine whether the baby is getting enough oxygen in the uterus (womb). With the patient in a reclining position, the clinician places two monitors on the mother’s abdomen. One monitors the baby’s heart rate, while the other monitors contractions of the uterus. This painless test takes from 20 minutes to an hour. Results are available immediately.
  • Biophysical profile – a test that uses real-time ultrasound to evaluate fetal movement, fetal breathing, and amniotic fluid. The non-stress test is also part of the biophysical profile.

If either the non-stress test alone or the biophysical profile is abnormal, your physician will recommend further tests or suggest that the baby be delivered ahead of schedule to improve the chances of a successful outcome to the pregnancy.