Monitoring your baby's movements

Pregnant woman feels for baby kicks

From around 28 weeks, it’s a good idea to start making yourself familiar with your baby’s pattern of movements, so if anything changes throughout your pregnancy you will be aware of it as soon as possible and will be able to seek help

How many times should I feel my baby move each day?

There is no average or 'normal' number of movements – each pregnancy, even for the same woman, is different. One baby may move a lot, another may not: the important thing is to know what's usual for each baby so you'll be aware of any abnormal or reduced movements.

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 you can get prompt, expert obstetric monitoring and care.

When should I start to feel my baby move?

Most pregnant women start to feel their baby move around 18 to 20 weeks into pregnancy – though if you’ve been pregnant before, you’ll probably recognise the familiar movements and notice them sooner, at around 16 weeks.

If you haven’t felt any definite movements by around 24 weeks, let your doctor or midwife know – they may arrange for you to have an extra scan.

What will my baby’s movements feel like?

butterfly flutter in woman's hand

In the early days (from around 18 weeks) they will feel like little flutterings in your abdomen, and are known, rather quaintly, as ‘quickenings’. These fluttery butterfly wings or rippling feelings soon become more definite, though, and you’ll get used to
the sensation of him pushing, twisting and flipping around in there – with the odd kick thrown in too.

All of this is exhausting for the wee thing, so naturally there will be times when he’ll be snoozing; usually things will settle into a familiar pattern, and you’ll know what to expect at certain times of day. This is great, because it enables you to monitor your baby's movements in reasonable detail from the third trimester, though if you have a high-risk pregnancy your doctor might suggest you start monitoring foetal movement earlier, at around 26 weeks.

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

Being aware of your baby’s movements can help you to monitor the health of your unborn child and will give medical staff vital information if you suspect a problem. 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.

You should start monitoring movements from week 28, unless your midwife has advised you to begin sooner. It’s also worth remembering that a sudden increase in movement should also be checked out.

What causes foetal movement to decrease?

With my first, I remember feeling little bubbly feelings at about 19 weeks, but didn't feel 'proper' movements till about 22 weeks.

There are many causes. It may be that you’re a bit dehydrated or not eating enough yourself. It can even be caused by the mother being stressed. It can be something as benign as your baby’s sleep pattern changing. However, it could also be a the amniotic sac being ruptured, the placenta coming away from the womb wall or the cord not delivering enough oxygenated blood to the baby. There’s no way of telling yourself so it’s always worth getting checked out.

What causes foetal movement to increase?

Again, many things, so it’s always important to get checked over. It might just be that you’ve had a lot of caffeine or sugar or it could be that the baby is in distress due to a cord accident (such as becoming wrapped round the baby’s neck) or the cord not taking enough oxygen to the baby.

Why do some women not feel the kicks so much?

If your placenta is at the front or your baby is positioned with her back to your tummy, you may not feel the movements as clearly as if she has a nice clear aim at the inside of your abdomen. That’s another reason why it’s important to know what’s normal for you, rather than to compare with anyone else.

How to monitor your baby's movements

You’ll probably have a general idea of what your baby’s movements are like and how often they tend to happen. But it’s a good idea to actively chart it, too – it will help you to be more confident about whether movement has changed.

Charting will help you get to know what times of day your baby is generally most active. As your baby grows, you'll also recognise triggers for her movements, for example lying in a certain position, having a cold drink or driving your car – so make a note of this, too. Lots of women say they notice their baby's movements more once they themselves aren't moving, for example when they're sitting or lying down.

Go with your instincts if you think something needs checking out.

This information can be really useful if you become worried your baby isn't moving – you can use these known triggers to check that your baby reacts, perhaps by making loud noises if a hand dryer usually wakes her up, or having a cold drink if that’s what does it.

What counts as ‘a kick’ or movement?

Movements can be kicks, swooshes, punches, jabs, rolls, flips or turns (but hiccups don't count). Each one counts as long as it’s a distinct movement, so a kick followed two minutes later by a turn counts as two movements.

How can I record my baby’s movements?

There are several ways of doing it, so choose the one that suits you best.

Charts

The idea is to find out what's normal for your baby. So for the first week, make a note of the movements each morning, for example. The next week, monitor movements during the afternoon and the following week the movements during the evening. (If your baby is of 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.

pregnant woman using mobile phone app to track

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, and be able to then look back and spot a pattern. The Count the Kicks charity has a downloadable app.

Kick counter wrist bands

Every time you feel your baby move, you slide a marker along on a plastic wrist band. Mumsnetters say the wrist bands are handy and as they are always there, so it’s harder to forget to do it. Kicks Count sells a wrist band that is very simple to use.

“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 otherwise.”

Why can’t I just use the ‘count 10 movements’ method?

This method used to be recommended – where you lie on your side and see if you can count 10 movements in an hour. It’s true that if you’re worried and aren’t sure what your baby’s movements are normally like, it’s a good way to make a quick assessment.

However, current advice is that it’s much better to get to know what is normal for your baby and measure increases or decreases in movement against that. The number of movements felt per hour vary from four to 100 depending on the baby, the mother and the baby’s position. There’s such huge variation that the only true indicator can be what’s normal for you.

I haven’t felt my baby move today – should I be worried?

Try not to panic immediately. Babies often go quiet for a while and usually all is fine but it’s always worth making sure and you won’t be wasting anyone’s time by making a call or going to get checked out.

How do I make my baby move?

If you think your baby has gone a bit quiet, first of all, try any triggers you know work (you’ll hopefully have been making a note of these during your third trimester). It might be a loud noise or eating something sugary.

Many women say their baby is more active when they are still as your movement rocks them to sleep, so have a very cold sugary drink (that often wakes them up) and lie down on your side for a while. You can also try making loud noises, by slamming a door or turning the hair dryer on, to wake them up.

When should I call the midwives?

Trust your instincts. If something doesn't feel right to you, don't worry about wasting anyone's time or making a fuss – contact your midwife immediately. Healthcare professionals will always be delighted to check you out and find out that the baby is fine and there was no cause for concern.

However, the best advice is to call the midwives if ANY of the following are the case:

  • You’ve noticed a sudden decrease (or increase) in movements.
  • You’ve noticed a more gradual decrease in movements over several days.
  • Your baby isn’t moving in response to triggers such as loud noises.
  • You have tried having a cold drink and lying on your side for two hours and haven’t felt any movements (however, if you’re concerned don’t feel you have to wait those two hours. If you’ve a gut feeling something is wrong, get checked out as soon as you can.)

Do babies move less as you get nearer birth?

No. This is a popular myth. The movements may feel different and less dramatic as there is less room in the womb and they do sleep more but movements plateau at 32 weeks, they shouldn’t tail off and certainly don’t stop. Babies should move right up to the end of pregnancy and even during labour.

What will happen if I go to hospital with reduced foetal movements?

midwife check baby movements

The first question you'll be asked is: ‘When was the last time your baby moved?’ or: ‘Is the baby moving normally?’ By already knowing the 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 the healthcare staff to assess the situation more quickly, and make important decisions in good time. The majority of the time everything will be fine – the doctors and nurses will check you out, perhaps do a scan, and send you on your way. If they do detect a problem, you might be kept in, and sometimes the baby will be delivered early if they feel she is safer out than in. If you do have a premature baby, rest assured you will be in the best possible hands.

If I feel fewer movements, is something definitely wrong?

Even if your baby's movements have changed, it doesn't automatically mean something is wrong. The RCOG guidelines say 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.

What Mumsnetters say about the importance of monitoring movements:

“So many women don’t 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.”

“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 felt that I was bothering the midwives 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.”

Read more Mumsnetters' experiences and share your own with other women on the Mumsnet Pregnancy Talk board .