Fetal Movement: Feeling Baby Kick

Experts answer your top questions about your developing baby's movements, from when she'll start kicking to how often you should feel her kick.
Feeling Baby Move: Weeks 18 to 21 of Pregnancy
Feeling Baby Move: Weeks 18 to 21 of Pregnancy

I'm a few weeks pregnant. When will my baby start moving?
"Babies are moving right from the beginning," says Raul Artal, M.D., chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology and women's health at St. Louis University School of Medicine. "With the advent of ultrasound, we can see some movement as early as six to eight weeks gestation." But you won't feel your baby move for several more weeks, because she's still too small to deliver a noticeable kick.

When will I start to feel her movements?
"Most women in their first pregnancies will start to feel the baby move around 20 weeks," says Jennifer Keller, M.D., assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. But don't worry if you hit that milestone and don't feel anything in your abdomen. "As an ob-gyn, I thought I would feel my own baby moving long before 20 weeks, but I didn't feel anything until 22 weeks," she adds. If you've been pregnant before, or you live in a "quiet or rural place," you may feel kicks as early as 17 to 18 weeks, Dr. Artal says. Additionally, if your placenta attaches in the front of your uterus instead of in the back, it may make it harder to feel movements, particularly early on.

What will it feel like when she moves?
Women usually describe the first movements as "flutters," and they can be so subtle that you might mistake them for gas bubbles. "Initially they feel like a butterfly," Dr. Artal says. "Later on it feels like kicking." Between 24 and 28 weeks, the movements become strong enough that your partner may be able to feel them by placing a hand on your growing belly. Eventually, you may even see the shape of the elbow or foot that's nudging you.

What's my baby doing when I feel her move?
"The first thing a baby does is big body movements, such as flexing and extending the arms and legs," Dr. Keller says. Hiccups begin around 11 weeks, as the neurological system develops, but you won't feel the rhythmic, recurring jerks that signal them until much later. Some women may be able to perceive big movements, such as when the baby switches positions. If you've been feeling pain in your rib cage and then suddenly it's gone, it's likely your baby was in a breech position with her head sticking into your ribs and she did a 180 to get ready for delivery.

Woman listening to her tummy

Alexandra Grablewski

Can it hurt when she moves?
Maybe. Unfortunately, "it is normal for the baby's movements to sometimes hurt the mom, particularly when the baby has a foot or arm pressed against the ribs or abdomen," Dr. Keller says. The pain can feel sharp or dull, or you may feel numbness. Because it can be "difficult to determine if the discomfort is due to the baby's movements or other worrisome conditions that can cause pain in the abdomen or chest such as pulmonary embolism or placental abruption," it's important to report any pain to your doctor, she adds.

How often should I be feeling her move?
In the beginning, it will be erratic, so don't sweat it if you go for long stretches without remembering there's a little person-to-be doing flips inside you. But around the beginning of your third trimester, your baby's movements will become more regular and your doctor will ask you to be on the lookout for a decrease in movement. "Every provider tells their patients something a little bit different," says Dr. Keller. "Some tell them to look for about 10 movements per day, some say 'pick an hour, concentrate on the baby and look for three or four movements in that hour.'" Consult with your doctor for specific instructions.

When should I call my doctor?
Most fetuses will develop a movement pattern you can predict. "Some move more in the morning, some in the evening," Dr. Keller says. "If you notice something different, go somewhere quiet, lie on your side, and concentrate on the baby with your hand on your stomach." If he moves a couple of times in a half hour, you're probably fine. If you don't feel your baby move, call your doctor. Remember, your baby's movements may slow down toward the end of your pregnancy, as she grows bigger and has less room.

Why might her movements have decreased?
"A decrease in the movements of the baby can be a sign that the placenta is not transferring oxygen and nutrients to the baby as efficiently as it was in the past," Dr. Keller says. "This could lead to poor growth of the baby or even stillbirth, and it's why physicians take a decrease in movement so seriously."

What will my health-care provider do if she's moving less often?
She will probably recommend that you come in and have the baby monitored with a non-stress test, in which a technician straps monitors to your belly and listens to the baby's heart rate. Or, she may recommend an ultrasound to make sure that the placenta is working well and the baby is fine.

Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.

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