Changes in Fetal Movement: What to Expect

Changes in Fetal Movement: What to Expect

For almost every pregnant woman, feeling their baby wriggle, twist, kick and punch is one of the greatest thrills they experience during these amazing nine months. This is because it’s the ultimate proof of the new life that is developing inside them.

However, changes in fetal movement can raise a host of concerns. Lots of moms-to-be worry that their baby is kicking too much or not enough, and when there’s a sudden change in the frequency of movements, this too can raise concerns.

All babies are different in terms of fetal movement and, for this reason, the range of what is considered to be normal is quite wide. Unless there’s a sudden change, there’s likely nothing to worry about. Still, with this expert guide into the world of the womb you should have a better idea of what to expect and when it’s time to take action.

First Trimester Fetal Movements

Even before you know you’re pregnant, your developing baby is going through rapid changes. Within 12 weeks, your little one will go from being just a cluster of cells to a fully formed (albeit tiny) fetus. Yet, you shouldn’t expect to experience any obvious fetal movements at this stage. Your baby will be moving around in your uterus but it’s too small and too deeply buried in the womb’s protective cushioning for those movements to be felt by you.

Second Trimester Fetal Movements

The second trimester, which begins at 13 weeks of pregnancy, marks the point at which you’ll start to feel your little one moving around. The “quickening” is the term used to describe the first time you feel your baby move, with most women experiencing this sensation at some point between week 14 and week 26.

In general, those early flutterings will be experienced between weeks 18 and 22, although some variation is common. This is often due to the placenta’s location since if it is at the front of the uterus (i.e. an anterior placenta) it may muffle movements, meaning that you have to wait far longer for the kicks to be felt.

The earliest movements that you’re likely to feel are often described as flutterings or waves. Other women describe them as more like a nudge, twitch or even like hunger pangs growling! They have even been compared to bubbles bursting or the feeling of being on a rollercoaster. Nevertheless, whatever those early movements feel like to you, you’re sure to be amazed when you realize what you’ve just experienced.

You must remember, though, that every baby is unique and this means that the patterns and rhythms of their activity varies. You shouldn’t compare the movements of your baby with the movements of others or even those of your previous babies. Some women worry that their babies are too active in the womb and that could signal that their child will be hyper after birth. Fortunately, no link has been found to suggest this may be true!

Most women discover that their baby is more active at certain times. Typically during the course of a regular day, a woman’s own body movements tend to lull the baby to sleep and, also, you’re usually focused on other things at such times. For this reason, women tend to notice more movements when:

  • You’ve just settled down in bed for the night. If you’re relaxed and feeling in tune with your body, it’s more likely that you’ll have a greater awareness of your baby’s movements.
  • You’ve just eaten a snack. When your blood sugar surges, your little one gets a sudden energy boost.
  • You’re nervous or stressed. Adrenaline has the same effect on your baby as it does on you, and that means an extra energy boost.

Fetal Movements in the Fourth Month and Beyond

During the fourth month of your pregnancy, if you have already had a baby before or if you’re very slim, you may experience the first movements of your baby. Most women, though, don’t recognize those twitches or nudges that feel similar to muscle spasms or gas for a few more weeks.

It is usually during the fifth month that most women experience movement from the fetus for the very first time. Once you’re aware of them, you’ll discover your baby’s movements become increasingly acrobatic. You’ll feel stronger kicks and punches as your baby’s muscles become stronger and their motor skills begin to develop. At this stage, your baby is small enough to twist and turn somersaults in your womb.

If you reach the middle of this month and haven’t yet experienced any movement, it’s possible your doctor will arrange for you to have an ultrasound scan to check on your baby’s progress. Your due date may be off – something that is surprisingly common.

By the time you reach six months, your baby will have really picked up their pace. Their leg movements will have increased dramatically, and patterns may begin to emerge.

Third Trimester Fetal Movements

pregnant woman having an ultrasound scan

By the time you reach this point in your pregnancy, it’s becoming a lot more cramped inside your womb. Yet, you should still be feeling fetal movements every day for the remainder of the pregnancy.

At seven months, your little one will still have sufficient room to turn over and toss about for just a while longer. He or she is also getting stronger each day so you might notice that the kicks and punches have become quite jolting by now.

You’re probably also feeling rhythmic tics which indicate that your little one has hiccups. These aren’t any cause for concern as they’re completely normal and they won’t cause any discomfort for your baby.

By the time you progress into the eighth month, though, your baby will be getting quite cramped inside your womb. You’ll notice fewer acrobatic tumbles, but turning and wriggling will still be experienced and jabs from knees and elbows will also occur around now.

Changing positions can help to reduce any discomfort you’re experiencing from your baby’s movements. If you’re sitting, try standing, and if you’re standing, try lying down. Your baby is likely to also change positions which could stop them from kicking for a while.

Many women at this stage find they can interact with their baby, gently pressing anything that protrudes from their bump. If you see a foot or knee pressing outwards from your stomach, try pushing against it. Often, your baby will pull their limb back and then push it back out again!

By the time you reach 36 weeks, your baby will have almost reached his or her full length and weight and that means there’s barely any room left in your uterus to allow for movement. You certainly won’t feel rapid kicks any more, but big movements and lurches are sure to grab your attention.

You’re also more likely to notice kicks on your cervix by now as well as your baby’s feet getting lodged under your ribs, which can be uncomfortable. Often, changing positions or giving your baby a gentle nudge will bring a little relief in such cases.

The Importance of Counting Kicks

When you can feel your baby moving, you can be reassured that he or she is well. When your baby is moving around less than usual or if you’ve noticed that there’s a change in fetal movements, this is occasionally an indicator that your baby has a problem and getting care and treatment quickly could, in some cases, be vital in saving your baby’s life.

In order to make sure your pregnancy is progressing correctly, your doctor may advise you to count movements or kicks beginning in the 28th week of your pregnancy right through to the birth. You can do this by setting aside a quiet time twice daily, one during the morning and once in the evening, when you can relax and focus on counting kicks. During the morning, fetal movements are likely to be less frequently experienced, but there should be increased movement during the evening. You can count kicks by checking the time before you begin counting.

You should count any type of movement whether it be a kick, roll, swish or flutter and stop counting at the point that you reach ten, noting the time. You should experience ten movements within one hour, although in some cases it’ll take longer. If you fail to experience ten movements in an hour eat a snack or drink some juice, go and lie down then carry on counting.

If you haven’t reached ten movements within two hours you should call your doctor. Absence of activity won’t necessarily indicate a problem but occasionally, it can be a sign that you need to be monitored or evaluated.

As you get closer to your baby’s due date, it becomes even more important to regularly check your fetal movements. When you get to your ninth month, you should be counting several times daily and if you suddenly note decreased movements, you should call your doctor.

Fetal Movements Just Before Delivery

Once your baby’s head has engaged (the term used for your baby dropping down head-first into your pelvis ready for delivery), you’ll probably notice that their activity pattern will change again. This will usually happen 2 – 3 weeks before you go into labor if you’re pregnant for the first time, but it could happen at any point up to the day you give birth in a later pregnancy. At this point, you’ll feel each turn of your little one’s head which may be experienced as electric-like sharp twinges around your cervix. On the upside, though, your baby’s feet will now no longer reach your ribs!

The weeks just before delivery often coincide with slightly less fetal movement, however, some babies continue to move around energetically right up to the last moment. Even if the movements are slightly less, you should feel some movement every day. If you notice a significant decrease, call your doctor.

When Is It Normal for Fetal Activity to Decrease?

There are some times when it’s normal to experience changes in fetal movement.

During the Second Trimester

At this stage, you will probably have only just begun to feel your baby’s movements and it’s normal to go for hours or even a couple of days without any movements being experienced. This is because your baby is still very small and, depending on the position of your baby, their movements can often be missed.

When Your Baby Is Sleeping

During the 3rd trimester, your baby will have developed a regular pattern of waking and sleeping and often, reduced activity means that they’re in a deep sleep. When your baby is lying with their back against your stomach you’ll probably experience fewer movements. You should, however, note any changes in fetal movement and carry on counting every day during the third trimester so you can report sudden decreases to your healthcare practitioner.

After Sex

Sex and its rocking movements, as well as the uterine contractions that follow orgasm, will often lull your baby to sleep. Conversely, some babies are even more active following sex, but either way it’s nothing to worry about. You can continue to enjoy an active sex life unless your doctor has recommended that you avoid sex in pregnancy.

Although all of the above are common reasons for your baby moving less frequently, you should usually find that your baby’s movements return to their normal level within a few hours.

How Often Should I Feel My Baby Moving?

There’s no specific number of movements you should experience each day as all babies are different. However, over time, you’ll probably begin to notice a pattern of movement and activity for your little one. Between 18 and 24 weeks, your baby will move increasingly frequently but once you reach 32 weeks you’ll notice the movements will roughly remain the same until delivery.

It isn’t necessarily true that all babies have reduced movement at the end of pregnancy. Every pregnant woman should carry on feeling their baby move until the moment they give birth – even during labor you will probably feel some movements. This is why it’s so important to be aware of your baby’s usual pattern of movements and kicks and to report any concerns you may have about changes to your healthcare practitioner.

If you have any worries at all you shouldn’t wait until the next appointment or even the next day. Immediately contact your doctor or midwife if you believe your little one’s movements have changed, slowed down or stopped completely. Hospital maternity units are staffed 24/7, so there will always be someone available to check you and your baby out.

Why Is My Baby Moving Less?

There are a few factors that can impact your baby’s movements. For example, if you’ve taken sedatives or strong painkillers, these may have entered your baby’s blood circulation which could cause them to move around less. If you have consumed alcohol or if you smoke cigarettes, this can also affect fetal movement.

In some rare cases, a medical condition that affects the nerves or muscles may result in your baby moving only a little or even not at all. In some cases, your baby may be moving less because it is unwell.

This is why it’s very important to consult with your doctor or midwife if you believe that your baby isn’t moving as frequently as he or she used to. Monitoring will put your mind at rest or highlight a problem that may require urgent treatment.

What Do I Do if I Experience a Slow Down in Fetal Movements?

pregnant woman having her baby’s heartbeat monitored

You should contact your doctor if you’ve experienced no movements by 24 weeks into your pregnancy. You’ll probably be scanned, and your baby’s heartbeat will be monitored.

After 24 weeks of your pregnancy, you should contact your maternity unit, doctor or midwife if you’ve noticed a significant decrease in movements. Never wait until your next appointment. You should have a complete check-up, which will include blood pressure monitoring, urine testing and, possibly, an ultrasound scan.

Although fewer movements may mean your baby isn’t well, the checks that are carried out on women who have experienced a change in fetal movements usually reveal that all is absolutely fine. Nevertheless, getting checked out is very important for your peace of mind and for your baby’s well-being.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve already had a check-up but you’re still worried about your baby’s movements, don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare practitioner again, even if all was fine the last time. Your midwife, doctor or maternity unit won’t mind seeing you again and carrying out all the necessary tests and checks to ensure that all is well with your pregnancy, so never worry about wasting their time – your health and the well-being of your baby is the most important consideration at this time.