Monitoring baby movements in pregnancy

Hand on pregnant bellyMost pregnant women start to feel their baby move around 18 to 20 weeks of pregnancy. Initially, these movements vary a lot, but they settle into a familiar pattern enabling you to monitor your baby's movements.

There is no average or 'normal' number of movements, which is why you need to establish what's normal for your particular pregnancy - if you feel something isn't right and that your baby isn't moving with the frequency you've become used to, call your midwife so that you can get prompt, expert obstetric monitoring and care.

Each pregnancy, even for the same woman, is different - one baby may move about a lot, another may not: the important thing is to know what's usual for each individual baby so that you'll be aware of any abnormal or reduced movements.

Why is it important to monitor your baby's movements?

Dr Melissa Whitworth, consultant obstetrician at St Mary's Hospital, Manchester, and lead author of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) guideline on reduced fetal movements, says: "Being aware of babies' movements is something that mums can do to monitor the health of their unborn child. A reduction in movements can mean that the baby is not well in the womb and a very small proportion of these babies need to be delivered urgently."

Most stillborn babies have no abnormalities and NHS Choices says that in 30% of cases there is no clear reason why a baby has died. Possible causes can be:

Monitoring baby movements is not just about counting the kicks. It's about getting to know the typical pattern of your baby's movements so you're aware of any changes and can be monitored as quickly as possible if you think something's not right. Trust your instincts.
  • Problems with the placenta
  • Problems with the umbilical cord
  • Pre-eclampsia
  • Obstetric cholestasis
  • Maternal diabetes
  • Infections

 

What counts as your baby moving?

Movements can be kicks, swooshes, punches, jabs, rolls, flips or turns (but hiccups don't count).

How do you monitor your baby's movements?

  • Charts

The Count the Kicks charity has a downloadable movement monitoring chart. It's divided into two-hour 'slots', so make sure you note whether the time you're recording is am or pm.

The idea is to find out what's normal for your baby. So for the first week, make a note of your baby's movements each morning, for example. The next week, monitor movements during the afternoon and the following week your baby's movements during the evening. (If your baby is the wriggle-all-night variety, then you could monitor night-time movements seeing as you're awake anyway.)

After a few weeks, you'll build up a pattern of your baby's movements and be aware if this pattern changes.

You'll also recognise triggers for your baby's movements, for example lying in a certain position, having a cold drink or driving your car. Lots of women say that they notice their baby's movements once they themselves aren't moving - ie when they're sitting or lying down.

This is useful if you become worried your baby isn't moving because you can use these known triggers to check that your baby reacts.

  • Apps

There are baby movement apps you can download to your mobile phone to help you keep track of when and how frequently your baby moves.

  • Kick counter wrist bands

Every time you feel your baby move, you slide a marker along on a plastic wrist band. Mumsnetters say they're handy and remind you to focus on your baby's movements. 

It doesn't matter how you record your baby's movements, the main thing is that you do it, so you can recognise if the pattern of movement changes. Trust your instincts - if something doesn't feel right to you, don't worry about wasting anyone's time or appearing neurotic, contact your midwife immediately.

The first question you'll be asked is "When was the last time your baby moved?" or "Is the baby moving OK?" By already knowing your baby's pattern of movements, you'll be able to give very specific and detailed answers, eg "Usually my baby moves around 10 times between breakfast and lunch, but today I've only felt three."

This will help healthcare staff to check your baby's health more quickly.

What Mumsnetters say about the importance of monitoring movements

  • I recommend a kick-counting bracelet of some kind. I wore one with my second baby and this was the only reason I picked up that her kicks had slowed down at 38 weeks. I had an infection and slight fever but it was enough to cause her distress. Reduced kicks were the only sign and I would never have realised the pattern had changed without the evidence of the bracelet. I tend to be an, 'Oh it'll be alright' sort of person. systemsaddict

  • So many women do not want to bother anyone and so leave it 24-48 hours of reduced movement and by then it is just too late. Everyone says how movement is reduced due to lack of room in the last few weeks, which I think makes women feel they are fussing if they do ask for extra monitoring. Hangingbellyofbabylon

  • Our lovely son was born by emergency caesarean a month premature and he's here because I went and got reduced movements checked out at the hospital. I was 35+6 and also felt that I was bothering the midwifes about nothing. I'd read that babies stop moving about so much as you get near to the end, but something didn't feel right. Please, please if you feel anything isn't quite right, go and get checked out, don't put it off or see how you feel in the morning etc. If we'd waited, I fear our story would be very different. welshpenguin


And finally…

Even if your baby's movements have changed, it doesn't automatically mean something is wrong. The RCOG guideline says pregnant women should be reassured that 70% of pregnancies with a single episode of reduced fetal movement are uncomplicated.

The main thing is to set your mind at rest by seeing a medical professional as soon as possible. And do share your experiences with other women on Mumsnet Pregnancy Talk board

 

Last updated: 16-Dec-2013 at 3:21 PM