Many pregnant women will wonder what it feels like when a baby, or fetus, moves during pregnancy.

The amount a fetus moves during pregnancy will vary from the early, butterfly-like movements when the fetus is still tiny, to the occasional breath-taking jabs and more continuous movement as delivery approaches.

The early, fluttering movements a fetus makes are known as quickening. Experts say the earliest dates when women feel their babies move range from weeks 16–22 of pregnancy.

Paying attention to fetal movement can alert parents and healthcare providers to potential problems and prompt early life-saving intervention. Monitoring fetal movements can also help expectant parents form a bond with the future baby.

a woman feeling her belly as this is a time when her baby is kickingShare on Pinterest
Health professionals may recommend counting kicks.

All babies have unique ways of moving. Their movements will change throughout the pregnancy as they grow bigger and stronger and have less room in which to move.

Early on, fetal movement may feel similar to having gas, and vice versa. Closer to delivery, the fetus may kick, which can feel like a small jab inside the body. Words that describe fetal movement include:

  • fluttering
  • rolling
  • swishing
  • tumbling
  • flips
  • elbows
  • kicks
  • squirming
  • pressing

As a fetus develops, a woman may notice different kinds of movements. If these movements are very rhythmic, the baby may have hiccups. One study found that 78.8% of women had noticed their babies having hiccups.

Other people

For friends and family who have permission, it is sometimes possible to feel the baby move by placing a hand on the pregnant woman’s bump.

However, other people may not notice the fetal movements that a pregnant woman feels, and vice versa.

Different factors will affect how much a pregnant woman feels her baby move.

If the placenta, the organ which supports the growing fetus, attaches towards the front of the uterus, it will put extra padding between the fetus and the pregnant woman’s stomach wall. Also, women who have more amniotic fluid will not feel fetal movement as much.

The fetus’s position will also affect how the person perceives movement. A woman is more likely to feel movement from the baby if it’s back is alongside her back than if the baby’s back is toward the front of the uterus.

A study found that women in their third trimester report increasingly strong fetal movements, including fetal hiccups. It also shows that babies tend to be more active at night.

When pregnant women are busy, they are less likely to notice their babies’ movements. A woman’s physical position — whether sitting, standing, or lying down — does not affect her ability to feel the motions.

Fetuses will begin moving a few weeks before a woman can feel them. Individuals checking for fetal movement from the outside will be even less likely to notice them — unless they are trained medical professionals.

Fetuses move differently at various times of the day. They do not move when they are sleeping, which is typically for periods of 20–40 minutes.

According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, fetuses move most in the afternoon and evening. Another study reports that women reported a sharp increase in fetal movement in the evening.

A fetus continues to move through and during labor.

Many healthcare providers encourage women to monitor fetal movement, starting around week 28. Monitoring can mean merely paying attention to how often and when the fetus moves.

Some women prefer a more structured approach and follow the count to 10 method. This involves counting the number of kicks during an active time of day for 2–3 hours. Most women should feel at least 10 kicks.

Women who feel less than 10 kicks within this period should speak to their healthcare provider.

It is helpful to start counting the kicks after they have fallen into a regular pattern. This may make it easier to detect when something is wrong.

If a fetus stops kicking, a woman should contact their health professional to make sure nothing is wrong. However, a decrease in kicking does not mean there is a problem.

A variety of factors may prevent the woman from perceiving kicks. Sometimes, the fetus moves less because there is less room in the womb as it grows.

In general, if a woman experiences a noticeable decrease or change in the fetus’s movements, they should contact their healthcare providers right away. Though problems are unlikely, early detection can help address any issues.

How it feels when a baby moves in the womb can vary from person to person. Most often, women describe the movements as ‘kicks,’ or ‘fluttering,’ though other descriptions include ‘wriggling’ and ‘pulling.’

Women will usually experience a range of fetal movements throughout their pregnancy.

Paying attention to fetal movement is a good way to keep track of a developing fetus’s health. It is also an important way for pregnant women and loved ones to bond with the baby in the womb.

If a woman notices a significant drop in the fetal movements, she should contact her healthcare provider.