Enjoy Those First Kicks

There's a good reason for each flutter and flip. Find out what triggers them, what they mean, and exactly what your womb-mate is up to for the rest of your pregnancy.

Mom on kitchen floor
Photo: Stephanie Rausser

During my two pregnancies, we'd pass time at family gatherings by waiting for the baby to kick. "She's moving!" I'd yell. But just as Grandma Rozzie hustled over, the feeling would pass. "Don't worry," I'd assure everyone. "Once I eat, she'll probably start again." More often than not, though, the baby was unusually quiet during these get-togethers, perhaps too mesmerized by all the activity on the outside to make her own ruckus.

When I think back, I can almost feel those kicks again. Few things are as magical as the baby in your belly letting you know she's there, well before you meet her face to face. "At five months, I only had a slight bump, so the pregnancy wasn't totally real to me yet," says Gina Bartnik, of Brooklyn. "But when I felt that movement for the first time, I thought, This is really happening. There's someone growing inside me." Not only growing, but stretching, somersaulting, and so much more! Learn about all there is to know (and relish it!) as your baby-to-be starts showing off her best moves.

The Early Flutters

When You Feel Them You'll usually detect your baby's first movements, known as quickening, between 16 and 22 weeks. It may be just a tiny quiver, but it's tremendously exciting. With those first few stirrings, your baby transforms from being someone you can only imagine to an actual person who is already distinguishing himself as his own little person.

What They Feel Like Some pregnant moms say the sensation reminds them of a "butterfly kiss" (like eyelashes rubbing against your belly); others describe it as popcorn popping or ginger ale bubbling. The feeling is subtle, though, so many women miss it entirely. And others can't tell whether what they're feeling is the baby or indigestion (understandable, as tummy troubles can abound throughout your pregnancy). "My patients sometimes come to the office complaining of gas pains or of a tingle in their bladder," says William Schweizer, M.D., clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University Langone Medical Center, in New York City.

What's Happening Here's a surprise: Those first few flutters you notice aren't kicks -- they're the whole baby flipping around, Dr. Schweizer explains. At 17 weeks, for instance, your little passenger can sure kick, but he's only about 5 inches long, so the amniotic fluid he's swimming in buffers his subtler movements; you'll feel only the full flops. If you get a sonogram at this stage, you'll see that your baby is plenty active. In addition to turning, he's flexing and punting, even sucking his thumb!

Real-Deal Jabs

When You Feel Them Between 20 and 30 weeks, Baby's movements become more noticeable as she grows bigger and stronger. "I'm now 21 weeks, and for about a month, I've been feeling flutters," says

Jen Munson, of Yonkers, New York. "Then last night I experienced my first definitive 'You now have

my attention' kick."

What They Feel Like You'll get an unmistakable jolt right in your midsection. "I was in a meeting at work, and I had my hand on the side of my belly when I felt a thump for the first time," says Amy Jo Irwin, of Wenatchee, Washington. "I basically ignored the rest of that meeting because I was so intent

on getting her to kick again!"

What's Happening Your baby has grown exponentially, Dr. Schweizer says. At 12 weeks, the average baby weighs less than an ounce; by 26 weeks, she's almost 2 pounds. Her larger, more powerful limbs will truly start to jab you, which, not surprisingly, can make it hard for you (or even your partner) to rest. "When I cuddled up with my belly against my husband's back, the baby would kick him!" says Kylie Clendenen, of Independence, Iowa. Getting accustomed to late-night wake-ups: not entirely a bad thing for parents-to-be.

Cool Gymnastics

When You Feel Them From weeks 30 to 35, you'll be fascinated by watching your stomach change shapes as your baby shifts inside it. During both my pregnancies, my round belly would suddenly become pointy on one side, or even square-shaped, until another wave of motion would make it morph yet again. Or I'd wake up to a lopsided tummy because the baby had decided to cozy up and burrow on one side.

What They Feel Like "It's truly an inexplicable sensation," says Beth Overla, who lives in Shelby, Michigan. And an even stranger sight. You might try to decipher what part of the baby is poking against your side or passing over your stomach: Is that a foot? An elbow? A knee? "Whenever Ezra moved, I would see a big thing go across my belly," says Shaina Silverman, of Houston. "I asked my doctor about it. He laughed and said it was the baby's tush!"

What's Happening A lot! In one study, when women in their third trimester were asked to count their baby's kicks, they reported feeling an average of 10 movements in 20 minutes. It's normal for your baby to continually shift around. As the weeks go by, you'll learn what makes Peewee pick up the pace. Eating certain foods typically results in some action, but sounds play a role too. In fact, what most excites many babies is Daddy's voice. By about the fifth month of pregnancy, your baby hears well, and low-pitched sounds, such as a man's voice, give babies more of a jolt than high-pitched sounds do, probably owing to the way sound travels through water. "My daughter would kick like mad whenever she heard her daddy's greeting," says Shea Stahmer, of Newport News, Virginia.

Final Stretches

When You Feel Them Once you've hit 35 weeks, your baby has less room to move, so you'll notice fewer gymnastics. But she may still have more tricks in store before she makes her debut. "The day before my maternity leave began, I was on the ferry to work," says Dorothy Voigt, of Staten Island, New York. "A mother and her young son sat across from me, and he was staring at my belly because the baby was moving noticeably. Then he grabbed his mom and screamed, 'That lady has an alien inside her!'

I laughed so hard, I thought I'd go into labor."

What They Feel Like You may experience pain under your ribs because your nearly full-grown baby is pushing up with her feet. Your pelvis may also ache as she presses her head downward -- not fun, but at least she's moving in the right direction!

What's Happening By about eight months, most babies have settled into a head-down position, prepared for birth. A small percentage get into the breech, or head-up, position. (If your baby stays that way, you'll probably need a cesarean section.) "The last month was very exciting," remembers Robyn Buie, of Oklahoma City. "One week my daughter would be breech. The next week, her head would be down. I was able to guess her position because I could feel her hiccups. If they were high, she was breech. Low? Her head was down." In the last days of pregnancy, remember this: When it ends, however it ends, you'll finally have your little acrobat in your arms.

Mom boxing
Stephanie Rausser

I Get A Kick Out Of You

What's the deal with those tae kwon do jabs in your tummy? Your pressing (and poking) questions, answered.

1) Should It Hurt?

"For most moms, kicking is gentle, but if the baby bumps a sensitive organ or a rib, it can become very uncomfortable," says Glade B. Curtis, M.D., coauthor of Your Pregnancy Week by Week. Feeling the baby is usually an exciting event, but if you experience severe pain when your sweetie moves, see your doctor, because this could signal a condition such as an ovarian cyst, a defect in the uterine wall, or a bladder infection.

2) When Is The Best Time To Feel Baby Move?

Babies have quiet and active moments, and your wee one's patterns will become clear. At this stage, you may not catch her kicks when you're busy (plus, your movements may lull your baby to sleep). But once you're resting, you'll recognize them. A good way to feel them is to lie on your side, which will stimulate the baby. Another prime kicking time: a half hour or so after meals.

3) Will Certain Foods Get My Baby Moving?

"Yes. Generally, foods and drinks containing caffeine or sugar have a bigger impact," says Mark DeFrancesco, M.D., chief medical officer of Women's Health Connecticut, in Avon. "Anything that stimulates mom will cross the placenta and, after a while, stimulate the baby."

4) He Kicks So Much, He's Bound To Be A Future Soccer Star, Right?

"There's no hard science on whether a baby's energy level in the womb is an indication of future temperament," Dr. Curtis says. "But my inclination is to think that babies who are more active in utero do tend to be more active kids."

5) Should I Worry That The Baby Hasn't Moved Much Lately?

Whenever you notice a distinct change in your baby's normal movement patterns (or if you have severe pain when the baby moves), talk with your doctor.

Originally published in American Baby magazine.

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