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When will I feel my baby's first movements?You'll probably start to be aware of something at about 18 weeks to 20 weeks of your pregnancy (Hijazi and East 2009, RCOG 2011).
If this is your first pregnancy, it may take you a bit longer to realise that those gentle fluttering feelings in your tummy (quickening) are your baby's movements (Raynes-Greenow et al 2013, RCOG 2011).
If you've had a baby before, you'll know the tell-tale signs, and may notice your baby moving around as early as 16 weeks (RCOG 2011).
Either way, if you haven't felt any movement from your baby by 24 weeks, see your midwife. She'll listen for your baby's heartbeat and arrange an ultrasound scan or other checks if they’re needed.
What is my baby doing in there?Ultrasound scans have given us incredible insight into what kinds of movements babies can make and when. Your baby will start moving long before you can actually feel it, and his movements will change as he grows and develops. If you're lucky, your baby may be awake during your scan, and you'll be able to see every wriggle and squirm.
- At seven weeks to eight weeks your baby starts stirring, for example by bending sideways and making tiny sudden movements (startling).
- At about nine weeks he can hiccup and move his tiny new arms and legs. He's also starting to suck and swallow.
- At 10 weeks he can move his head, bring his hands up to touch his face, open his jaw and stretch.
- At 12 weeks, he can add a yawn to that stretch. Perhaps all that growing is tiring business! (Lüchinger et al 2008, de Vries and Fong 2006)
- At 14 weeks he can move his eyes.
- At 15 weeks he can suck the thumb of his preferred hand. If you spot this during the scan, it may give you a clue as to whether he's going to be right-handed or left-handed later on. (de Vries and Fong 2006)
Gradually, your baby's movements will become strong enough for you to feel them. At first they'll be gentle and might feel like a flutter, bubbles popping or a rippling sensation (Raynes-Greenow et al 2012). Sometimes it can feel like gas or air.
Before long though, you'll be used to him pushing, swirling, twisting, and even thumping or kicking as he moves his little limbs (Raynes-Greenow et al 2012).
Your baby won't constantly be on the move. There will be times when he just wants to rest and sleep. Don't worry if you don't see much activity during your scans, as your baby may be having a snooze.
Towards the end of your pregnancy, your baby will rest for longer periods. These will usually last for about 20 minutes at a time (de Vries and Fong 2006), although they could be as long as 50 to 75 minutes (RCOG 2011). They might feel longer than this to you though, because you won't notice every movement.
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How many kicks should I feel each day?There's no set number of kicks you should feel (RCOG 2012), and no need to keep a written record or chart of your baby's movements (NCCWCH 2008, RCOG 2011). When it comes to assessing how your baby's doing, charts aren't necessarily more helpful than generally being aware of your baby's movements (Heazell and Froen 2008, Mangesi et al 2007, RCOG 2011).
Try to tune in to your baby's pattern of movements during waking hours (RCOG 2012). As your pregnancy progresses, it gets easier to learn this rhythm. Every baby has a different pattern of waking and sleeping (de Vries and Fong 2006), and it's helpful to get to know what's normal for your baby (Heazell and Froen 2008).
If you notice a change in your baby's pattern of movements, or are worried at any stage, contact your midwife or maternity unit straight away so that they can check his wellbeing (NCCWCH 2008, RCOG 2012).
I haven't felt my baby kick today, should I be worried?If you haven't concentrated on feeling these sensations, you may have missed them (RCOG 2011). To help you to focus and count your baby's movements, lie on your left side with support under your bump. Stay still for a couple of hours, during which time you should feel at least 10 separate movements (RCOG 2012).
You're more likely to be aware of your baby's movements when you're lying down rather than sitting, and you'll probably be least aware of them when you're standing (Raynes-Greenow et al 2013, RCOG 2011).
If you'd like some reassurance, here are some quick ways to encourage your baby to move:
- Put your feet up, have a snack, and relax. Your baby may be rocked to sleep while you're moving around, in which case he may wake up when you stop and have something to eat.
- Have a really cold drink. Your baby may feel the change in temperature and try to move away from it. A sugary cold drink may also give him a sugar boost to encourage movement.
- Make some noise. Play loud music or slam a door to see if he responds.
If your baby starts to move around, all is probably well. But keep an eye on his movements from now on, and seek help sooner rather than later if you have any concerns.
When should I see a midwife or doctor?Contact your midwife or doctor immediately if you notice any of the following signs. It's important to get in touch with them straight away, and not wait until the next day, if:
- You don't feel 10 or more separate movements while lying on your side for two hours (RCOG 2012).
- Your baby doesn't start to move in response to noise or some other stimulus.
- There's a big decrease in your baby's movements, or a gradual decrease over several days.
If your baby is moving less, it could be a sign that he's not getting enough nutrients or oxygen through the placenta (Hijazi and East 2009, Tveit et al 2009, RCOG 2011, RCOG 2012). There might be other clues that your baby is at risk, such as if he's measuring small-for-dates or if you've had a complication before (Dutton et al 2012, O'Sullivan et al 2009).
Either way, you're likely to be referred to a maternal or fetal assessment unit in hospital. Here, you and your baby will receive care from a team of midwives and doctors. They'll monitor your baby's heartbeat, and may offer you a scan to measure your baby's size and the amount of amniotic fluid surrounding him (RCOG 2011).
Happily, in most cases such checks reveal that all is well, and the baby is healthy (RCOG 2011). If this is the case, you'll be sent home, and you’ll need to continue to be aware of your baby's movements. If you notice reduced movements again, call your midwife or maternity unit immediately, no matter how many times it's happened before (RCOG 2011, RCOG 2012). If your doctor or midwife has any concerns, or if your baby's movements continue to decrease, he will need extra monitoring (RCOG 2011).
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Last reviewed: January 2015
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