All about foetal movement (baby kicks!)

Feeling your little one play around in the tummy is one of the most exciting moments of a pregnancy. What better proof is there that an energetic new life is developing within you?

While most mums love the baby kicks, they also bring a whole lot of questions like: when should my baby start kicking? Is my baby kicking enough? Should I go to the hospital if my baby stops kicking for a while?

Let’s get to the bottom of these wriggling movements!

When should you expect foetal movements?

Most mums feel their baby’s first movement, sometimes called “quickening”, around weeks 18-22 during the second trimester. For the first three months, your little one is just too tiny and located too deeply in your womb. While babies start moving long before mothers know it, you won’t be able to feel any movement during the first trimester.

Having said that, every baby is different, and it is not uncommon to have kicking as early as week 16 or as late as week 24. If this is your first pregnancy, it might take you a little longer to realise quickening.

Your baby should pick up the pace after six months in, but if you haven’t felt any movement by now, your doctor may order an ultrasound to see what your baby is doing.

Is there a way that baby kicks are supposed to feel like?

As a new mum, it is natural that you want to be expected for anything and everything, including knowing how foetal movements should feel like.

Initially, you might feel a fluttering-like movement. Some people say it feels like gentle twitching, tumbling or rolling more than kicking. As time goes on and your baby’s muscles develop stronger, those light butterfly-like sensations will gradually turn in to jabbing and kicking. Towards the last month of your pregnancy, kicking on your ribs may cause some discomfort, but a shift in position usually helps to bring relief.

Nearing your labour, the baby is almost at full term and has little room to make big kicking movements. So you might notice that the rapid-fire kicking movements become more like pressing. Despite the change in moving sensations, you should still feel the baby moving as often as before, and that brings us to the next question.

How often should I feel my baby move?

At first, you might still be unsure whether your baby has moved or not. It’s most likely just a few flutters every now and then.

But by the end of your second trimester, the movements are stronger, more frequent, and easier to notice. Like us, babies also have their own schedule. They like to move around at certain times of the day, and you should be able to notice these patterns after a while.

Many mothers report that their babies are the most active right when they are trying to sleep. It is thought that your movements during the day can lull the baby to sleep, but when you are less active, the baby is more awake. There are also many anecdotal reports of baby movements after having a sugary snack or when the mother is nervous, which may be explained by the blood sugar and adrenaline changes.

How to count kicks and when to be alert?

While some mothers prefer to keep a written record of their baby’s movement, it is not absolutely necessary if you are good at paying attention to your little one’s movement. Be aware of your baby’s movement rhythm, frequency, and trust your instinct.

However, if you trust more in numbers, then you could set aside some time once or twice a day to count kicks. There is no set number for what’s normal, so you’ll need to work out what’s typical for you baby. If you don’t record a similar number on one occasion, don’t panic, have a snack or change your position before counting again. It’s also possible that your baby is just sleeping!

Closer to the due date, it becomes important to regularly check your baby’s movement multiple times a day. It’s normal to notice fewer movements when the baby is sleeping, which should be quite consistent by the end of your pregnancy. However, if you notice a change in your baby’s activity during the typical “awake” times, or have an inkling that something is off, contact your provider straight away.

  • If your baby suddenly moves less
  • If your baby’s movements gradually decrease over days
  • If your baby’s movements are unusual (weaker or stronger)

Your healthcare team will be able to monitor your baby’s heartbeat, movements, size and surrounding amniotic fluid using medical tools. For more information, you can consult Melbourne-based fertility specialist Dr Alex Polyakov.