You’ve probably heard of counting kicks during pregnancy, but is it really necessary?
What’s the purpose and how do you know what’s normal and what’s not?
Most experts agree that tracking fetal movement is a good way to prevent stillbirth and other issues. In this guide, we’ll show you how to do that and let you know when it’s time to call a doctor.
Why Should You Count Kicks?
The purpose of counting kicks is to track your baby’s health. Once you understand what her normal patterns are, you’re able to spot changes, possibly alerting you of issues. For example, if you sit down to count kicks one day and realize there’s a sudden drop, you know to call a doctor who can diagnose and/or treat the problem. In other cases, the baby may seem normal, but with close attention, you notice repeat periods of no movement. Without being mindful of these movements, it’s harder to spot potentially life-threatening changes. Simply put, counting kicks can help you avoid health problems and fetal loss.
Even if you have a normal, low-risk pregnancy, reduced fetal movements are associated with negative pregnancy outcomes. Research suggests that tracking movement reduces the chances of stillbirth, especially when it’s avoidable.
If you’re still not convinced that setting time aside to count kicks is important, consider the results of an Iowa “Count the Kicks” campaign. Aimed at teaching women to track fetal movements in their last trimester, the campaign corresponded with a 28% drop in stillbirths in the state.
What Does Fetal Movement Feel Like?
If you haven’t experienced your baby move yet, you may be wondering what it feels like or if you’ll get it confused with something else. How a baby feels will vary by woman. Some people describe it as similar to:
- The feeling of “butterflies” in your stomach
- Hunger pangs
At first, you may question if what you’re feeling is actually a baby movement. Over time though, you’ll learn your specific baby’s patterns and feelings.
During the third trimester, your baby can get very active. If it’s bothering you, you can switch positions to see if it changes your baby’s movements. For example, stand up if you’ve been sitting for a long period of intense kicks.
You can also play along with your baby’s movement as a bonding experience. For example, if you see your baby’s foot against your belly, touch her back and see how she responds.
When To Start Counting Baby Kicks
Although you’ll begin feeling some movement earlier, most doctors recommend women start counting kicks in the third trimester. This is particularly important for women with high-risk pregnancies; however, as we mentioned above, it’s a good health check for any mother-to-be. In many cases, doctors will ask about movement updates during each prenatal visit in the third trimester. You can track movement before this time, although it’s less noticeable.
First Trimester Fetal Movement
When you first discover you’re pregnant, you’re so excited, you wish you could feel your baby. Unfortunately, you’ll need to wait until your second trimester though. During the first trimester, your baby is developing rapidly, but she’s still too small and too deep inside your womb for you to feel anything.
Second Trimester Fetal Movement
You’re getting closer to feeling your baby! Most women feel the first movements between weeks 15 and 25. What determines if you feel it sooner or later? A few factors:
- Placenta position— Placenta facing the front (anterior placenta) can muffle kicks and rolls, making it take longer to notice.
- Weight— A smaller woman is likely to feel movement earlier. An overweight woman may need to wait longer and may have a harder time discerning kicks. That’s because the baby has more room to move and kicks will feel less powerful.
- Prior pregnancies— If this is your second or third pregnancy, you’re likely to feel movement more toward the 15-week mark. For first-time moms, you may need to wait until week 25.
During month 4, only some women will feel movement, particularly slender women or those who’ve been pregnant before. By month 5, most women will have experienced some movement. As time goes on, you’ll notice more movement and more power behind kicks and punches. You’ll also notice turns and somersaults.
If you don’t feel any movement during this time, try not to panic: The cause may be as simple as your due date being wrong. Still, in this case, some doctors will recommend an ultrasound to make sure your baby is okay.
Third Trimester Fetal Movement
As you enter your third trimester, your baby grows, meaning there’s less room inside the womb for her to move. This means you’ll feel kicks more easily and you can expect them every day until birth. This is why doctors recommend tracking movement in the third trimester: It becomes very predictable.
As the space inside your womb tightens, your baby is less likely to do somersaults. However, you’ll probably feel kicks and punches more intensely—sometimes startling you. If you haven’t already, you should be able to see your baby’s movement outside your belly now.
Late Third Trimester Fetal Movement
As you get closer to your due date, you’ll notice even more changes in movement. With less room, there will be fewer repetitive kicks and larger movements, like your baby turning.
In the weeks leading up to labor, your baby’s head will drop down toward the pelvis to prepare for birth. This could also bring along another set of changes, including feeling her head move. In general, your baby may move a little less or keep her same movement pace until birth.
How to Count Baby Kicks
Counting baby kicks means that you’re timing how long it takes to feel a certain number of movements. For example, your doctor may ask you to sit down and count how long it takes to feel 6 movements.
Different experts list varying ideal kick counts and times. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), you should time how long it takes to feel 10 movements. Movements can include:
You can record your movements on paper, on your phone or the easiest option: download a kick counter app.
Also, consider that it’s easiest to count movements when your baby is most active. You’ll get to know her patterns, but this is typically after you’ve eaten a meal.
You should be able to feel about 10 movements in 2 hours. However, you’ll probably reach 10 far sooner, sometimes within 15 minutes. If you’re in your third trimester and count less than 10 movements in 2 hours, contact your doctor. Alternatively, if your doctor or midwife has given you a different movement and time count, follow that before contacting them.
Even if your baby’s movements have decreased, try not to panic. It’s likely that your baby is still healthy. If you notice repeat periods of decreased movement, there could be a bigger cause for concern. In addition, big changes in your baby’s movement patterns could indicate a problem.
Baby Movement Changes
As we outlined above, every trimester (and sometimes week) brings about changes in baby movement. If you’re wondering if a change is normal, contact your doctor. These general tips may help too.
You’re likely to feel more movement:
- After eating— Whether you’ve eaten a meal or a snack, the increase in blood sugar can also raise your baby’s energy, making her move more.
- In the evening— Toward the end of the evening, we’re more relaxed and winding down for the day. As opposed to being busy crossing items off your to-do list, you’re more likely to notice movements when you’re completely relaxed.
- Bedtime— Babies tend to be most active between 9pm and 1am, which is typically when most people fall asleep.
- When you’re nervous— When we’re nervous, our body gets pumped with adrenaline to help us respond to the situation. This can also give your baby an increase in energy too.
- After sex— Having sex can make baby movement slower or more intense, which is to be expected. As long as your doctor says sex during pregnancy is safe, it’s safe.
You’re likely to feel less movement:
- When they’re first starting to move— As you start feeling your baby’s movements in the second trimester, you may go through periods of intense kicking and then nothing. That’s typically normal when your baby is still small and you may not notice movements because of their position and power, etc.
- After sex— As mentioned, sex can make a baby more or less active. Sometimes, the rocking of sex and contractions of an orgasm can put a baby to sleep, meaning less fetal movement.
In your third trimester and are starting to worry about not feeling your baby move for a while? Here’s a quick trick: Eat a snack and see if the blood sugar boost gets her to move. If that doesn’t work and you’ve gone 2 hours with fewer than 10 kicks, contact your doctor. You should also alert your doctor if your baby starts moving a lot more than usual too.
Summary on Tracking Baby Movement
Counting your baby’s movements is recommended in the third trimester to prevent avoidable issues. If there’s less than 10 movements in 2 hours, contact your doctor or midwife. You should also contact your healthcare provider if you notice drastic changes in her patterns, such as moving a lot less or moving a lot more suddenly.