Quickening in Pregnancy: Feeling the First Fetal Kicks

Many parents-to-be wonder when they'll feel fetal movements for the first time. Here's your guide to understanding "quickening" during pregnancy.

A pregnant couple feeling fetal kicks

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When Does Quickening Happen?

Expectant mothers generally feel the first fetal movements around 17 weeks of pregnancy, says Georgia Rose, midwife coordinator at Village Maternity in New York City. But every women is different, and quickening can take place anywhere from 13 weeks to 25 weeks. Rose mentions that women who have previously given birth may recognize fetal movements earlier, since they know what to expect. You might also not detect quickening as easily if your placenta is anterior (situated in front of the uterus) or if you’re heavy-set.

What Does Quickening Feel Like?

Quickening often feels like twinges, flutters, or bubbles. Rose says that many first-time mothers confuse fetal movements for gas. As your pregnancy develops, the movements will become more pronounced – and they might resemble (painless) kicks or punches by the third trimester.

Additionally, quickening might be more obvious at certain times of day. “Babies are quieter during the morning and afternoon, and more active at night. The movements sometimes wake women up,” says Rose. She adds that babies may respond to certain foods (like caffeine or sugar), sounds (like dads's voice), and actions (like tapping on the belly).

How Often Will Baby Move?

“After quickening first starts, you might not feel fetal movements every day,” says Rose. “There’s a large amount of amniotic fluid and a small, lightweight baby moving around.” By the time you get to 24-26 weeks of pregnancy, though, the baby has less wiggle room and you'll probably feel movement daily.

Why Does Baby Move?

Fetal movement is essential for fetal development,” says Rose. “Babies have to stretch and move to develop properly.” These movements help your little one prepare for life outside of the womb. If the baby isn’t wiggling around, it may indicate a complication. For example, the baby might not be getting enough nutrients from the placenta, or you might have low amniotic fluid levels.

What If You Don’t Feel the Baby Moving?

Not all women will experience quickening around 17 weeks of pregnancy – and this doesn’t necessarily signal health problems. “What the mother feels doesn't always correlate with what's going on in the womb,” says Rose. She recommends telling your Ob-Gyn or midwife if you haven’t detected quickening by 18-20 weeks, though. Your doctor will run tests to ensure everything is alright.

Guidelines also exist for counting fetal movement after 28 weeks. In general, you’ll want to detect 10 movements within 2 hours. Counting kicks has been known to prevent stillbirth, and it helps assure a mother of her baby’s well-being. If you notice a decrease in Baby’s kick count, see a doctor to rule out any issues with the pregnancy.

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