Baby's Movements Through Pregnancy: What's Normal & What's not?
Understanding your baby's activity pattern is crucial during your pregnancy as this can indicate how well your little one is doing. So, here is a breakdown of what to expect and when you should consult your doctor.
The excitement of feeling your baby move is a heart-warming milestone all mothers look forward to. However, your baby’s activity can also be a crucial indicator of how well he or she is doing. Although every pregnancy is different, there are common ways to evaluate baby movements in relation to what is normal and what you should be concerned about.
How does it feel?
Fetal movements or ‘kicks’, are often painless and is also known as ‘quickening’ within the early weeks. The feeling itself is often described as “fluttering” which is similar to the nervous warmth we know as “butterflies”.
At times, it is a seemingly subtle movement that you may not even feel or can be mistaken as a tickle, gas bubbles or a hunger pang. Don’t be alarmed if their kicks get a little aggressive because as your baby grows stronger throughout your pregnancy, you may experience hard kicks that can cause discomfort or mild pain.
When do I start feeling baby kicks?
Baby movements can be felt as early as 14 weeks into your pregnancy. First-time mothers may only start feeling baby movements between 18 and 24 weeks when they become more prominent.
There are various factors that influence when you feel your baby’s first kicks. Here are some common ones:
- Experience: Second-time mothers may feel their kicks much earlier than their first pregnancy as they are already aware of how it feels. New mothers may perceive early baby movements as other body issues such as gas and only realise these kicks once they become more distinctive.
- Placenta position: Your placenta position is usually determined during your 20-week scan. Women with an anterior placenta may find it trickier to feel baby movements. An anterior placenta is when your placenta is between your baby and your stomach - it is attached to the front wall of your uterus, which provides extra cushioning for your baby and you may not feel his or her early wriggles. So, focus on your sides and lower down as this is where you are likely to feel movement.
- Size: Weight can play a part in feeling your baby kicks. Mothers who have a higher body mass index may take longer to feel as their abdominal wall is thicker.
What are normal baby movements during your pregnancy trimesters?
As your pregnancy progresses, your baby’s activity will become stronger. In the first trimester, your baby is too small and you may not realise their movements. Thus, your second trimester is normally when your start feeling all the wonderful flutters. Afternoon and evenings are recognised as peak periods of when your baby is most active.
Here are a few common feelings you may experience throughout your pregnancy:
- First trimester (Weeks 1 – 12): As we mentioned, you may experience little to less baby movement. A scan during your later weeks may show that your baby has been active but you were unable to feel their precious kicks because of their teeny size. Fret not, you will start feeling these kicks in your later trimesters.
- Second trimester ( Weeks 13 – 26): As your morning sickness lessens, you bump will grow and you will start to feel their kicks. Nevertheless, your baby is still small in size and although his or her activity may not be as strong as your later weeks, you may feel a fluttering sensation that can start as early as 14 weeks. During the later weeks, you may start experiencing discomfort as your baby’s muscles grow stronger and their movements are much more energetic.
- Third trimester (weeks 27 – 40): As your baby develops and grows, his or her space gets a little less roomier which means you will undoubtedly feel their movements. Your baby has more energy and you may experience slightly harder kicks that can cause a bit of pain or discomfort. Some babies may even do a full somersault, twitch or hiccup! Don't be anxious, such activity can act as an indicator that your baby is developing well.
How often should your baby kick? Generally, normal and healthy baby activity is defined as 10 or more movements in the span of two hours. But, bear in mind that babies have sleep cycles where they can be absent in terms of their movements – these sleep cycles can range between 20 and 40 minutes, but at times can prolong up to 90 minutes.
Your baby’s movement will usually increase up until 32 weeks of pregnancy and then their activity pattern should be consistent, while the type of movement may change as you near your due date. Eventually, you will come to understand your baby's unique movement pattern quite well.
What’s not normal: decreased baby movements
Decreased activity or a big change in your baby's regular movement pattern may be a sign that your baby is unwell. There are various factors that can contribute to experiencing decreased fetal movements - it can be sleep cycles, or generic issues such as obesity that can affect your ability to feel the kicks.
Still, there could be serious underlying issues when there is sudden inactivity or a change in your baby's activity pattern. Issues such as lack of amniotic fluid could be among the factors that makes it more difficult for your baby to move about. Certain drugs or medication such as pain relief or sedatives can also affect your baby's circulation and movements. Additionally, alcohol or smoking can also have adverse effects on your baby's pattern of movement.
According to the Australian Family Physician, it can also be attributed to time where women may be too busy to feel the movements. Meanwhile, is it found that women feel fewer movements when standing or sitting. It is advised that mothers should lie on their left side and concentrate on feeling 10 or more kicks within a span of two hours.
If you feel less or little kicks within this time period, it is best to contact your doctor as this can be a sign that your baby could be unwell. Your doctor may check your baby’s heart rate with a non-stress test which measures the baby’s heart rate against their movements.
Monitor your baby’s movements: count your kicks
Counting your kicks and understanding your baby’s movement pattern is crucial for mothers to know if there is a sudden decrease in kicks, inactivity or a change in pattern.
This is especially important during your third trimester where you should be keeping track of your baby’s daily movement. Mothers who track their movements during their pregnancy can detect any possible utero distresses and prevent the risks such as stillbirth. An easy way you can do this is by feeling how long it takes to feel 10 movements, whether a kick, flutter or roll.
A total of 10 movements in the span of two hours is normal, however, do not panic immediately if you do not feel 10 movements – you baby could be in his or her sleep cycle. You can try eating a snack, drinking juice, or walking around for a few minutes before lying down on your side to feel any movement.
You can also track your baby’s kicks with a kick counter or a chart. Some clinics or hospitals may provide you with one as well. Tracking these kicks will let you understand the time pattern of when your baby is most active, their sleep cycles and how long it takes for your baby to finish 10 movements. Any twist, kick or turn is counted as one movement.
If your baby has not moved a total of 10 times within the span of two hours, do not be afraid to contact your doctor.