Feeling your baby move during pregnancy

Be aware of your baby's normal movements.

Fetal movement has long been considered a sign of the baby’s well-being. So it’s only natural that changes in the movement – or the inability to feel movement – could cause concern.

As you go through the various stages of pregnancy, keep in mind these facts about fetal movements:

  • You might not feel your baby move for the first 20 weeks.
  • Several factors can determine when and how you feel the first fetal movements. (We will discuss them.)
  • The types of movements you feel will change during the pregnancy.

When should I feel my baby move?

Before 14 weeks, the baby will be moving, but you usually won’t be able to feel it. Most of our patients come in for an ultrasound when they are around 8 to 10 weeks pregnant, to help us confirm their due date. The baby is about an inch long at this point with small limb buds, making it look like a tiny teddy bear. During the ultrasound, we can see the entire baby bouncing around inside the uterus in a sac of amniotic fluid.

The first fetal movements are often described as a “fluttering.” It is often such a subtle movement that you have to be still and pay close attention to notice it.

Some women can feel their baby move as early as 15 weeks, while others don’t notice it until closer to 20 to 22 weeks. It varies for each person and depends on a number of factors. There’s no difference in the health of a baby whose movements are felt sooner rather than later.

I frequently tell my patients about my experience when I was pregnant with twins. As an obstetrician, I was trained to use my stethoscope to listen for fetal heart beats. I could hear their heart beats at 18 weeks of pregnancy, but even with two babies, it was close to 21 weeks before I was certain that I was feeling them move. You also should be reassured by your second trimester ultrasound, where you can see the baby moving around, even if you aren’t feeling it yet.

As the pregnancy progresses and the baby grows, the movements usually become stronger. Some of the kicks and flips might take your breath away. If the movements feel rhythmic for a few minutes, your baby probably has a case of the hiccups!

Once you start to feel movement, it may be helpful to refer to a pregnancy calendar. These calendars offer week-by-week pregnancy information and can help you track your baby’s development. A quick online search will produce several options. Having this kind of information delivered by text message is easy, too.

Toward the end of the pregnancy, the baby is bigger and has less room to move around, so women often notice a difference in the movements. Sharp jabs and somersaults turn into nudges, as the baby settles into a uterus that is relatively more crowded.

Factors that can impact how you feel your baby move

When and how you feel those first few kicks from your baby depends on several factors, including:

  • Your experience as a mother – If you’ve been pregnant before, you’re likely to notice that first “fluttering” sooner in your pregnancy. Early on, it’s kind of a guessing game – it could just be gas. But as the feelings become more defined, you will recognize them as fetal movements.
  • The position of the placenta – If the placenta is on the front side of the uterus, an extra layer of cushioning will be between your stomach and the baby, so it may take longer to feel movement.
  • The amount of fluid around the baby – If there is less amniotic fluid, you may not feel your baby move as much.
  • Your body mass index – Larger women sometimes don’t feel their baby move as early as other women.

Decreases in fetal movements

Many women come to us concerned that they can’t feel their baby move. Remember, it may be 20 weeks or later before you feel those first movements. Once you start to feel movement, my best advice to women is:

  • Be aware of your baby’s normal movements. If there is a significant change, mention it to your doctor.
  • Counting fetal kicks at home is one way to check on your baby’s movement habits. Go to a quiet area, lie down, and concentrate on the number of movements you feel. Five movements in an hour, or 10 in a two-hour period, is considered normal.
  • If the baby is moving less, it doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. Babies do sleep inside the uterus and period of inactivity may just be naptime. However, less movement also can be a sign that there’s less amniotic fluid surrounding the baby or that the placenta is not functioning correctly. So it’s not something to ignore.
  • If you had been feeling movement but go more than four hours without feeling any movements, it’s time to call your doctor. This is especially concerning if you have a medical complication like diabetes or high blood pressure.

Here at UT Southwestern in Dallas, we are equipped to answer your questions and manage all pregnancies, even when there are complications. For more information about our services, call 214-645-8300 or request an appointment online.

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