Prenatal Testing

Biophysical Profile

A biophysical profile is essentially a physical examination of your baby before being born. It is composed of five markers of health which are each scored between 2 (normal) and 0 (abnormal). The markers are:

  • Fetal breathing movements
  • Fetal movement
  • Fetal tone
  • Fetal heart rate
  • Amniotic fluid volume

The theory is that a normal biophysical profile demonstrates an intact central nervous system. An abnormal biophysical profile is the result of central hypoxia (a condition in which the body does not receive adequate oxygen).

What you need to know

Current research is finding the biophysical profile is not as good a predictor of fetal well being as once expected, however the amount of research makes it difficult to draw conclusions. Until more research is done, the Cochrane Collaboration is recommending it not be used as a test for high-risk pregnancies.

A similar study compared the biophysical profile, nonstress test and doppler (listening to heart rate) for cases of intrauterine growth restriction and found the best predictor of poor fetal outcomes was an abnormal doppler. This may mean families who use the biophysical profile and have a “bad” test result may decide to use interventions when they are not necessary.


Biophysical profile is done during a long ultrasound exam.


Gonzalez, J.M., Stamilio, D.M., Ural, S., Macones, G.A. and Odibo, A.O. (2007). Relationship between abnormal fetal testing and adverse perinatal outcomes in intrauterine growth restriction. American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology 196(5):e48-51.

Lalor, J.G., Fawole, B., Alfirevic, Z. and Devane, D. (2008). Biophysical profile for fetal assessment in high risk pregnancies. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2008(1).

Jennifer (Author)