Having your baby move inside you can feel surreal. It is mostly wonderful, sometimes pretty uncomfortable and, definitely, a pregnancy bonus that only you get to truly experience.
Yet, your baby’s movements are also a way in which your baby communicates with the world outside your womb. They may be soothed by you or your partner’s touch, conversation or singing, stopping moving when you do so. Or, as is often the case, they can show excitement and respond to your interaction with them by giving you a little dance!
Importantly, your baby’s movements are a measure of their well-being and this is why we pay so much attention to them during pregnancy. An active baby is usually a happy and healthy baby. Therefore, it is important to contact your maternity unit as soon as possible if you are ever concerned about them.
What is ‘normal’?
Most women feel their baby move for the first time at around 16 to 24 weeks of pregnancy. If you’re pregnant with your first baby, you are likely to feel movements after your 20th week, whereas you may feel them as early as 16 weeks if this is not your first pregnancy.
Initially, you may be unsure if what you are feeling are your baby’s movements or something else. Many women describe those first movements as ‘flutters’, ‘flickering’ or a sensation similar to when you have gas in your belly. Mostly, they will appear quite fleeting and erratic and you will probably only feel them when you are lying down or sitting.
As your baby grows, you’ll start to feel your baby move more and more. By the time you are 25 weeks pregnant, you’ll probably feel daily movements and there may already be a pattern developing – with most women reporting feeling their babies when they relax on the sofa during the evening or when they are in bed.
The number of movements your baby makes daily tends to keep increasing until you reach 32 weeks of pregnancy. After that, they tend to stay more or less the same, but do not decrease.
By 28-32 weeks, most babies have a regular pattern of movement. This means that you can roughly predict when your baby will move throughout the day – and the night!
Truths and Myths
Although much of the advice out there is well-meaning, some can lull you into a false sense of reassurance and, potentially, put your baby at risk. It is therefore important to separate the wheat from the chaff.
It is true that:
- Your baby will have their own pattern of movements. This is the pattern that will be normal for your baby in this pregnancy. Do not compare it to other women’s experiences or to how your other babies moved in previous pregnancies.
- A few babies do not seem to have a set pattern of movements. If this is the case for you, try to become aware of your baby’s usual level of activity and go with that. You should be able to determine if your baby is moving less, more or differently by comparing it to what is usual for them on a daily basis.
- Your baby’s movements may change in nature as your pregnancy progresses. As they grow and run out of room in your womb, your baby will be less able to kick out or ‘jab’ and these movements may be partly replaced by rolling, ‘swishing’ or pushing. As these movements are bigger, they may initially be perceived as less. However, if you are familiar with your baby’s pattern of movement, you should not see this pattern change much.
- An anterior placenta can ‘mask’ movements. If your placenta has attached to the anterior (front) wall of your womb, it may act as a cushion-like ‘barrier’ and absorb the impact of your baby’s movements. This can mean that, even when your baby is moving, you can’t feel it. Many times, movements that can’t be felt internally can be felt by placing your hand on your ‘bump’. If your placenta is anterior it is worth doing this often throughout the day.
However, never assume that you cannot feel movements because of your placenta. If you are concerned or in doubt, always contact your maternity unit.
Now, let’s unpick those ‘myths’:
- Babies do NOT move less in the third trimester. As mentioned above, your baby’s movements tend to stay roughly the same after 32 weeks and their nature (how they feel to you) may change as they get bigger. However, it is not normal for their pattern or usual level of activity to change significantly.
- Your baby’s movements should NOT stop or decrease during labour. You should continue to feel your baby move right up to the time you go into labour and whilst you are in labour, too.
- You should NOT be reassured if your baby moves after being stimulated. Having a cold drink or ‘prodding’ your baby may make your baby move a little. However, this is usually a short response from your baby and should not reassure you that all is well.
- An anterior placenta is NOT always the reason why you can’t feel your baby move. It is a fact that women with anterior placentas tend to attend their maternity units more for reassurance. This is OK! If you cannot tell if your baby is moving, your baby’s wellbeing will always need to be assessed and you will always need to be reassured.
When to ring your maternity unit:
- If you perceive a significant change in your baby’s pattern of movement or their usual level of activity. Do not wait until the next day or your next appointment and do not be reassured if you’ve seen your midwife/doctor earlier that day. If you are at all worried or unsure, always ring your 24-hour maternity unit and go in to be assessed.
- If your baby’s movements decrease during labour. If you are at home labouring and notice that your baby’s movements change, contact your maternity unit and make your way in as soon as possible. If you are in the hospital or birthing centre, alert the midwives caring for you.
- If your placenta is anterior and you are unsure if your baby is moving normally, regardless of whether you’ve been recently seen or not. We cannot emphasise this enough. It does not matter when you were last seen by your maternity care provider, if you are in doubt or concerned about your baby’s movements, do not assume that it is your placenta masking them. Always, always ring.
- If you have not felt any baby movements by the time you are 24 weeks pregnant. An antenatal assessment in hospital and, probably, an ultrasound scan will be needed to check your baby’s wellbeing if this is the case.
You know your baby better than anyone in this world. Your maternal instinct is real and strong - you should never ignore it. So, whether you have a niggling sensation that something may not be quite right or you have any concerns about your baby’s movements, always, ALWAYS, contact your maternity unit without delay.