A range of factors can determine when a pregnant woman can feel the baby move, including whether she has been pregnant before and the location of the placenta.
This article will look at the timeline for fetal movements and the factors that can affect the sensation.
A woman may feel the first fetal movements, called the quickening, during the second trimester, between 16 and 22 weeks of pregnancy. Women have described these movements as a flutter, swish, or discrete kick.
A woman may not initially recognize these sensations, because they can feel similar to abdominal muscle contractions or peristalsis — involuntary movements of the esophagus, stomach, and intestines during digestion.
Starting at around week 32, during the third trimester, the frequency of fetal movements typically remains steady until birth.
One period of movement may last for 20–40 minutes, and the fetus may not move during sleep, which typically occurs in 90-minute cycles.
As the authors of a 2019 study report, fetal movements tend to become stronger as the pregnancy progresses. Some women also report increased activity in the evenings.
A variety of factors can affect when fetal movements occur and how keenly the mother can feel them. Among these factors are:
Maternal body weight
Authors of a 2017 review confirm previous findings that having a higher body mass index (BMI) is associated with a decrease in fetal movement.
An “anterior” placenta attaches to the front of the uterus, while a “posterior” placenta attaches to the back.
The baby is positioned behind an anterior placenta. As a result, it might take longer for the mother to notice movement.
It may be more difficult to detect fetal movement during times of stress or other distractions.
A 2014 study found that women who are working outside of the home toward the end of the third trimester are more likely to report decreased fetal movement.
The first movements can feel like tiny flutters, not unlike the feelings of digestion or gas.
As a result, it may be easier for women who have had previous pregnancies to recognize fetal movements earlier on.
When a woman goes into labor, the baby often continues to move.
An older study, from 1991, with a small participant group of 22 women, found that it was fairly common for babies to move during contractions and labor. Among the participants, 65.9% felt their babies move while also experiencing uterine contractions.
Fetal movement typically begins in the second trimester.
As a fetus grows and develops, their movement patterns become more regular. They may be more active at certain times of the day, following a meal, or when there are loud noises.
Starting at around 28 weeks, many healthcare providers recommend counting the number of kicks in a 2–3 hour period. This helps establish a baseline of what is normal for the fetus.
If the number of movements then changes significantly, it could indicate a problem.
A healthy fetus often makes 10 discernible movements in a 2–3 hour period, though deviations can occur, especially during sleep.
Prolonged periods of few or no movements can indicate that something is wrong. In this case, it is important to seek medical attention.
If an unusually long period passes with few or no movements, try drinking something sweet or moving around. If the baby still does not move, consult a doctor.
Seek emergency medical help if movement patterns change or stop for an extended period and:
- There is pain.
- There are contractions.
- Fluid, particularly blood, comes from the vagina
If there has been no movement by 24 weeks, see a healthcare provider.
If there is decreased fetal movement between 24 and 28 weeks, make a same-day appointment.
If a woman notices decreased movement after 28 weeks, she should see a healthcare provider as soon as possible. If this occurs after clinic hours, it may be necessary to receive an ultrasound at an urgent care facility or labor ward.
A fetus moves for the majority of pregnancy, but their movements are only discernible for about half of this time.
The pattern of movement can indicate that the fetus is growing and healthy, while deviations can serve as important signs that there may be a problem.
If a woman notices a significant decrease in fetal movement, she should seek medical attention.