Baby Movement and Kick Counts
When Do You Feel Baby Move: Baby Movement and Kick Counts
November 12, 2022

When Do You Feel Baby Move: Baby Movement and Kick Counts

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When Do You Feel Baby Move: Baby Movement and Kick Counts

Feeling your baby move for the first time can be exciting, but it can also be, well, kind of confusing. Is that my stomach rumbling…or is that the baby?

We promise that, eventually, there’ll be no question about baby movement—the kicks will be so strong you won’t even question it. Later in pregnancy, the feeling will be so distinct you’ll be able to—and totally should—do kick counts to monitor your baby’s well-being.

Here’s the full scoop on when you can feel baby move, how to know what you’re feeling is actually a kick and how to do kick counts once those little jabs are unmistakable.

When can you feel your baby move?

For first-time pregnancies, baby movement is often felt sometime between 18 weeks and 25 weeks. (Though your baby will actually start wiggling around a lot earlier than that.)

If you’ve been pregnant before, you may feel baby movement sooner. Studies show it could be as early as 16 weeks, says Dr. Jennifer Lang, a Los Angeles–based ob-gyn and author of The Whole 9 Months: A Week-by-Week Pregnancy Nutrition Guide with Recipes for a Healthy Start. Doctors believe those who’ve given birth at least once before can recognize and identify baby movement earlier because they’ve already experienced it.

What is “quickening”?

“Quickening” is the official term for feeling baby’s movement in utero. Your doctor may refer to baby’s kicks and jabs using this term, and you’re also likely to come across it on the internet.

So what exactly is going on in there? Babies move around in the uterus to stretch and practice their motor skills. They might kick, punch and roll around. At some point, you might feel gentle, rhythmic hiccups. “It can feel like a fluttering type movement,” Dr. Lang says.

How can I make my baby move?

You might notice your baby is more likely to move around when you’re sitting or lying down and it’s quiet. Some pregnant people find their babies are most active in the evenings and that they move around more after they eat a meal or have a sugary drink. Eventually, you might also notice your baby respond to sounds or even your emotions with gentle (or not so gentle) kicks.

What do baby kicks feel like?

Baby kicks will feel different throughout your pregnancy. The most common descriptions of those first baby movements is that they feel like gas or digestion, or like bubbles or butterfly wings.

By the start of the third trimester, kick will become stronger and more frequent, feeling more like gentle presses and pushes. Toward the later pregnancy weeks, they’ll get even stronger and more distinct (which is when you’ll start doing kick counts—more on that later). You might even find yourself saying “ouch!”

When should I worry about my baby’s movement?

“I think more people are anxious about fetal movements and what they mean than almost anything else,” Dr. Lang says.

If you don’t yet feel baby movement at the 20-week mark, that doesn’t necessarily mean that anything is wrong. For example, if your placenta is in between your belly and the baby (called anterior placenta), it could be harder to detect movement than if your placenta is on the other side of the uterus, near your back (posterior placenta).

If you’re still in mid-pregnancy and you haven’t felt any movement, it’s likely everything’s just fine—so long as your uterus is growing appropriately in size and you’re not experiencing any irregular bleeding, Dr. Lang says. Keep up with your regular prenatal care and let your doctor know so they can make sure everything looks healthy.

Once you do start feeling kicks, you’ll want to keep an eye out for changes in baby’s habits:

Decreased Fetal Movement. If your baby is moving less than usual, there may be a perfectly reasonable explanation. For example, sometimes baby is just sleeping. There are certain times babies just tend to be chill, usually while you’re moving around. Late in pregnancy, as babies run out of room, they may kick a little bit less often. Sudden decreases in movement, though, could be a sign of a problem.

Increased/Excessive Fetal Movement. There are some pretty active babies out there! If you have one of them, you might wonder if all that movement could be a sign of a problem, and usually it’s not. Baby might just be really busy! But when movement increases suddenly, especially if your baby is typically less active, it could be a sign of fetal distress.

Be sure to talk to your doctor or midwife if you have any concerns about your baby’s movement.

How to do kick counts

Kick counts are the best way to understand your baby’s movement patterns, so you can either rest assured that everything is going smoothly, or be prompted to call your healthcare provider about a concern.

Your doctor may want you to start doing kick counts around 28 weeks pregnant. That’s when baby’s kicks are likely to have become strong, and they’ll have developed more noticeable daily habits.

When counting baby’s kicks, you should aim to reach a quota each time. “You’ll want to be able to feel 10 distinct movements—rolls, kicks or flutters—within a two-hour period,” Dr. Lang says. “Most of the time, you’ll get there in the first five minutes,” though it could take as long as two hours. If you don’t feel baby move 10 times in two hours, try eating or drinking a little, then try again. If you still don’t reach the quota the next time, it doesn’t hurt to give your doctor or midwife a call.

To get the most accurate kick counts:

  • Do your kick counts around the same time every day.
  • Count kicks at a time of day when your baby is typically most active. Remember: baby isn’t going to behave exactly the same way every day at the same time. But you can look out for patterns and noticeable changes.
  • Try to stay focused and pay extra attention to what’s going on inside. “Just calm your breathing and pay attention to your body,” Dr. Lang says.

Record baby’s movements and how long it took to reach 10 of them. You’ll begin to notice a pattern of what’s normal for your baby.

Call your healthcare provider if:

  • You haven’t felt 10 baby movements within two sets of two-hour kick counts (about four hours total).
  • If there’s a noticeable change in your baby’s movement pattern over three or four days.

Above all else, go with your gut. If anything feels different about your baby’s movement—if you’re noticing less, or none at all, especially after the 24-week mark—call your doctor. “Maternal perception of fetal movement is actually one of the best indicators of well-being that we have in the entire field of obstetrics,” Dr. Lang says. “Try not to become a hypochondriac, but be keyed into your body and baby and its patterns—trust yourself.”

If you can’t remember the last time you felt baby move, lie down for a kick count. If you’re worried at all, tell your doctor.

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