The first time you feel your baby move can be an exhilarating moment in your pregnancy. Its normally the first start of your bonding journey and is a special moment of connection and emotion. The first time the father feels the baby move is also special and a realisation of his entry into fatherhood.
Movements are also special because they tell us so much about how well a baby is. They are a good sign of fetal wellbeing and that all is going well with the pregnancy.
When should I feel the baby move?
Most women are first aware of their baby’s movements from around 18-20 weeks of pregnancy. However, if you’ve had a baby before it may be 16 weeks when you recognise those telltale fluttering signs. If its your first, it make take you a little longer to recognise those bubbling or fluttering movements as the baby moves.
Movements can be kicks, swooshes, punches, flips or turns (Hiccups however are NOT classed as movements).
It is important for you to recognise your baby’s movement patterns, simply by making notes every few days from around 24 weeks. Every pregnancy is different and every woman feels things differently but if you haven’t felt your baby move by 24 weeks you should see a medical professional. It’s difficult in the early weeks as baby’s movements vary so much, but soon you will notice a pattern and learn what is “normal” for you.
What is my baby doing in there?
Ultrasound scans are a wonderful tool which enables us to see in the wonderful world of the womb. It has shown us the different stages of movements as the baby grows. Your baby will start moving long before you can actually feel it, usually by 8 weeks and his movements will change as he grows and develops. If you’re lucky, your baby may be awake during your scan, and you’ll be able to see every bounce and turn. There will be times when he just wants to rest and sleep. Don’t worry if you don’t see much activity during your scans, as your baby may be having a snooze.
- At 7 to 8 weeks your baby starts stirring, for example by bending sideways and making tiny sudden movements (startling).
- At about 9 weeks he can hiccup and move his tiny new arms and legs. He’s also starting to suck and swallow.
- At 10 weeks he can move his head, bring his hands up to touch his face, open his jaw and stretch.
- At 12 weeks, he can add a yawn to that stretch. Perhaps all that growing is tiring business!
- At 14 weeks he can move his eyes.
- At 15 weeks he can suck the thumb of his preferred hand. If you spot this during the scan, it may give you a clue as to whether he’s going to be right-handed or left-handed later on.
What are normal movements for an unborn baby?
During both day and night, your baby has sleep periods that mostly last between 20 and 40 minutes, and are rarely longer than 90 minutes. Your baby will usually not move during these sleep periods.
Towards the end of your pregnancy, your baby will rest for longer periods. These will usually last for about 20 minutes at a time, although they could be as long as 50 to 75 minutes. They might feel longer than this to you though, because you won’t notice every movement.
The number of movements tends to increase until 32 weeks when they will stabilise, although the type of movement may change as you near your due date. Movements should not reduce as you near your due date and the baby should continue to move up until and during labour.
How many movements or kicks should I feel?
There is no set number of kicks you should be feeling, what is important is that you know what is normal for your individual baby. If you notice an increase or reduction in your baby’s regular movement pattern contact your medical professional. There is a common misconception that you should be feeling 10 kicks over a set period, this is no longer recommended as all babies are different. Baby’s movements can vary from 4 to over 100 every hour but you should usually feel one episode of movement once per hour. One episode can be a run of kicks for 20 minutes or longer. Overall you should feel over 10 episodes spread over the whole day. Some movements may be stronger than others. Your baby won’t move constantly but at least every 75 mins.
You won’t be aware of all your baby’s movements, for a variety of reasons.
Some movements won’t last long enough or be strong enough for you to feel. But when your baby moves his whole body for longer than a few seconds, or his limbs for longer than seven seconds, you’re likely to notice it.
Another reason you might not feel all your baby’s movements is that they can be harder to notice if your baby’s spine is at the front of your bump, or if the placenta is at the front of your bump (anterior placenta)
Every pregnancy is different
Every pregnancy is different, so it’s hard to say exactly what you will feel and when, but here’s a rough guide:
20 to 24 weeks
You may notice kicks, or repetitive jerking movements when your baby gets hiccups. Your baby’s activity will gradually increase and become stronger.
You may find that your baby becomes more active in the evening when you are relaxed or at mealtimes.
24 to 28 weeks
The amniotic sac contains up to 750ml (26fl oz) of fluid. This gives your baby plenty of space to swim around freely, so you may notice more movements. Limb movements may feel punchy, while whole body movements may be smoother. You may even notice him jumping at loud noises. Good movements are only possible when there is a normal amount of fluid for the baby to move in. The fluid is produced from a healthy placenta and is a sign of good blood flow to the baby.
The womb becomes a little more cramped so your baby is likely to be making smaller, sharper, more definite movements, such as strong kicks and pushes.
This may be the most exciting time for feeling your baby move, as after this week the number of movements you notice will stabilise. However, the type of movement may change and be gentler but should be the same frequency.
You will be able to feel your baby wriggling around in there though! You may also notice that your baby develops a regular time of the day when he’s most active.
In your first pregnancy, your baby will probably take up their final head-down position now.
If you’ve had a baby before, your tummy muscles are likely to be weaker, so your baby may keep changing his position right up to 40 weeks.
At this point, your baby doesn’t have as much room, so his movements may feel harder and stronger. Jabs from his arms and kicks from his legs may feel sharp, uncomfortable and sometimes painful.
36 to 40 weeks
Your baby will be getting larger, and won’t be rolling over as often. Instead, you may feel more squirming movements.
It’s normal to notice a change in the types of movement you feel as you near your due date. But you should still be feeling your baby move right up until, and even during labour itself. Your baby should also move with the same frequency.
What triggers my baby’s movements?
it is good to recognise what triggers your baby’s movements. Things that may prompt your baby to kick are eating or drinking certain things like cold or hot drinks, fizzy drinks, ice or sugary food like chocolate. The reason is the stomach will lie near the uterus and so something cold going past can stimulate the baby. However do not consume large quantities of something to prompt your baby to kick as this may give indigestion or gurgles you may mistake for movements and give false reassurance. If your baby doesn’t move when initially prompted, try another method or call your medical professional immediately.
Other prompts for your baby may be lying on your left side, changing position or rubbing your belly.
An increased intake of caffeine, cold drinks or certain medication may cause your baby to suddenly increase their movements.
Why are my baby’s movements important?
Reduced fetal movements are a common reason mums go to hospital. A reduction in Fetal movements can be a sign that the baby is in distress and the placenta is no longer working well. It is thus important in many cases when movements don’t improve for medical professionals to consider delivery, especially when this occurs after 37 weeks.
Research suggests a perception of reduced fetal movement affects up to 15 per cent of pregnancies, with one study finding that in 55 per cent of cases where reduced fetal movement had been reported a stillbirth occurred.
Following the Confidential Enquiry into Stillbirths and Deaths in Infancy, lack of prompt management has been recognised as a contributing factor for stillbirth. This is why it is so important to seek help immediately whenever you notice a change to your baby’s regular pattern of movement.
A prompt decision to deliver could save the life your baby if it is in trouble in the womb.
What may cause my baby to move or kick less?
There are many reasons a baby may move less. However because it is not possible to determine on your own what is causing a baby to move less, it is vital to get every episode of reduced fetal movement assessed by a midwife or Doctor.
Certain drugs such as strong pain relief or sedatives can get into an unborn baby’s circulation and can make your baby move less. Alcohol and smoking may also affect your baby’s movements.
In some cases, a baby may move or kick less because he or she is unwell. It is important to seek advice to check this isn’t the case.
What should I do if I notice a change in movement?
Always seek professional help immediately. It may occur due to maternal infection, reduced fluid around the baby or placental problems all of which can be assessed and addressed by the doctor.
Movements are a wonderful way of monitoring your baby and knowing its growing well so don’t ignore them.