Paying attention to a fetus's movements in utero has been linked with a decrease in stillbirth. That's why First Candle, the nonprofit group behind the Back to Sleep SIDS-prevention campaign, encourages women to monitor or chart their babies' kicks beginning in the 28th week of pregnancy.
Rather than causing anxiety, reassurance is the most likely result. "Most women who notice a decrease in movement will still have a healthy outcome," says Ob-Gyn Ruth Fretts, M.D., an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston who researches stillbirth prevention. "The biggest concern is when it happens repeatedly."
Pick a time of day when your baby is most active, usually after you've had a snack or light meal.
Once you're sure she's awake, sit with your feet up or lie on your side and start counting movements. Twists, turns, swishes, rolls and jabs also count as "kicks." Hiccups do not.
Log the number of minutes it takes to count 10 movements.
Doing a kick count generally takes 10 to 15 minutes, but it might take as long as two hours. Overweight women may have a harder time perceiving kicks, Fretts says. Also remember that the sensations won't be as sharp and noticeable as your pregnancy progresses and the baby has less room to move around.
Call your doctor or midwife if it takes longer than two hours to count 10 kicks; a non-stress test should be performed to check the baby's heart rate. "This rules out a life-threatening emergency, but it doesn't address the underlying reason for decreased movement," Fretts says.
An ultrasound could offer further explanation, but that is done only about 20 percent of the time in the United States, so you may have to be proactive in asking for one. If the non-stress test comes back normal, continue charting the kicks daily. You should be evaluated each time you perceive a problem, Fretts says.
Also be aware that if the idea of charting kicks makes you anxious, studies have shown that simply paying attention to your baby's movements in utero and reporting potential problems to your doctor or midwife can also reduce the possibility of stillbirth.