It seems that they are ironically titled 'non-stress' tests, since they can actually cause a lot of stress for a pregnant woman. However, in medical terminology, it's called a 'non-stress' test because they want you to be at rest, and are monitoring the baby when it isn't stressed, unlike during contractions when it will be 'stressed.'
If you've gotten to the point of NST's in your pregnancy you are likely either past term, or having some sort of complications that they'd like to monitor more frequently.
What happens during an NST?
They will check the fluid around the baby to make sure that it has enough aminotic fluid with an ultrasound. Likely they will measure at least 4-5 different spots around the babies body. They will take your blood pressure to check for pre-eclampsia. Then they will hook you up to two different monitoring belts, one for the babies heart rate, the other to monitor babies movements, or for any contractions.
Why do they do NSTs?
An NST is scheduled to get a more invasive look at the baby than what would happen at your usual doctors appointment. Since the test is longer, they can check how often the baby is moving (they typcially want it to average ten times in 2 hours) and how your body is doing after your due date has passed.
How often are they scheduled?
This can really vary by hospitals, but typically the results of an NST are 'valid' for between 3-5 days. It is my opinion that every 4 days is often enough, especially if you don't experience any other kinds of changes or negative symptoms related to your impending delivery.
So, now that we know what an NST is, what can you do to be better prepared for it?
1. Bring the following: Water, a book, and a blanket. At this stage in the pregnancy game you likely have your water bottle with you all the time, but I think it's especially critical to have it during these 'tests.' It can ease your nerves to take a sip, so make sure you have it with you. As the test can run anywhere from 30minutes to an hour, a book is a nice thing to have. You may just decide to rest and sleep a bit, but I think a book is a good option as well. The most critical thing, however, is the blanket. These rooms are cold- partly to help make the baby move, and partly because it's a hospital space like all the others. A blanket can totally mean the difference between an enjoyable experience, and misery shivering.
2. Eat something the baby likes before you get there. They want to know that the baby is moving, and while they have things that they can do at the hospital to encourage movement (eating ice, noises next to the baby, etc.) it's easiest on you if the baby is cooperating. Maybe have that nice chocolate snack that makes the baby kick, or schedule your appointment when the baby is active.
3. Remember that it's just about data. This isn't a definitive test- and it's non-invasive, meaning that it's just recording something happening. The nurse has certain data that she is trying to collect, and all you need to do is relax to provide it.
4. Shower before you go. This seems odd, but it can be possible that they may decide not to let you leave the hospital. The most likely reason for that would be low amniotic fluid, which can be serious. However, regardless, showering before you go will ensure that you get to shower, just in case you end up staying. This sort of goes hand-in-hand with bringing your hospital bag, which I don't advise. Personally, I think you leave the bag at home. If they make you stay you'll need to call in the troops anyways, and I also think that it's nicer to come home, get your stuff, then go back the hospital if possible. If they discover something in the NST that means you need to stay, it's most likely not so serious that a quick trip home to pick-up supplies is out of the question.
5. Wear something easy to move in. You will be lying in a bed, and will have to have your belly exposed (hence the blanket). I recommend that you wear something easy, like a tank-top, and wear a zip-up too, since you can have that covering your arms after your blood pressure reading.
These are my tips and tricks for NST's. Here I am, just before mine got started. My next one is scheduled for Thursday. Anyone out there also having NSTs?