Normal fetal movement varies, and changes can have various causes. Sometimes, a person may expect movement while the fetus is napping. However, if they notice less fetal movement than usual or a significant change, there could be a serious cause.

Each pregnancy is unique, and fetuses vary in how active they are. A person can learn what is normal for their fetus by monitoring how much they usually move.

A person should begin to monitor how much their fetus typically moves, especially from the third trimester.

A fetus may be less active if they are ill or have another problem. A person should contact a doctor or midwife if they notice changes in the pattern of movements.

This article looks at how much fetal movement is normal in each trimester and what causes increases and decreases. It also looks at when to contact a doctor and answers some frequently asked questions.

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Each pregnancy is different, and people may feel more or less movement than others. People may also have different experiences than during other pregnancies.

Pregnant people do not typically experience fetal movement during the first 1–12 weeks, which is the first trimester.

Second trimester

During the second trimester, 13–28 weeks, symptoms of morning sickness, such as nausea, begin to recede for many people. The abdomen typically expands more noticeably, and a pregnant person usually begins to notice fetal movement.

People refer to the first fetal movements a pregnant person feels as quickening. Quickening occurs during 16–22 weeks of pregnancy. The movements begin as a gentle fluttering sensation that the pregnant person can feel, but others may not notice when they touch the pregnant person’s abdomen.

At around 20 weeks of pregnancy, a trained healthcare professional may be able to feel fetal movement through the abdomen.

Read about second trimester pains.

Third trimester

In the third trimester, from weeks 29–40, the position of the fetus may drop lower in the abdomen.

A pregnant person may notice stronger, more vigorous fetal movement. They may also notice new movements and sensations, such as fetal hiccupping. A pregnant person may notice the fetus tends to be busier at certain times of day, and movement may be more subtle at other times.

Most healthcare experts recommend that a person monitors fetal movement, especially in the third trimester. A person should be aware of typical daily movement so they can judge whether the fetus is moving more, less, or the same amount as on other days.

Some healthcare professionals may recommend a person does a formal fetal movement count (FMC), which some call a kick count. This involves a pregnant person counting fetal movements at around the same time every day. If there are fewer than 10 fetal movements in a 2–3-hour period, a person may want to contact a healthcare professional.

Read a guide to pregnancy trimesters.

There are some reasons for decreased fetal movement that a person should not worry about. In most cases, there are no abnormalities or medical problems.

Nonserious reasons include the fetus resting or napping and the fetus being too large to move around vigorously during the later stages of pregnancy.

If a person notices that the fetus does not move during a later kick count or they seem less active than usual, there may be a more serious cause for decreased activity.

A decrease in fetal movement may relate to:

  • A complication with the umbilical cord: The umbilical cord may be wrapped around the fetus’ neck, or there may be another problem with the cord.
  • Fetal growth restriction: The growth of the fetus may have slowed, which may affect its development.
  • Placental insufficiencies: The placenta may not be able to deliver sufficient nutrients to the fetus.
  • Fetal brain injury: The fetus may have suffered a brain injury, which can lead to severe problems after birth.
  • Congenital malformation: The fetus may have a birth defect that could affect its health, such as a structural anomaly in the heart.
  • Hypoglycemia: Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, may lead to low energy, and coma or death in severe cases.
  • Oligohydramnios: This is when there is too little amniotic fluid.

Read a guide to pregnancy complications.

An increase in fetal movement is not typically a cause for concern.

Many people report feeling the fetus move more frequently after 37 weeks. This may be because the fetus is large enough for a pregnant person to feel it move.

In a 2019 study, pregnant people who experienced increased fetal movement had a better outlook and babies with a higher birth weight than those in the control group.

The researchers found that increased fetal movement did not have an association with the umbilical cord wrapping around the neck or stillbirth.

The researchers found that, in some cases, excessive fetal movement could indicate potential problems, such as fetuses being large for their gestational age. This could mean a higher risk of diabetes.

Read about gestational diabetes and why it develops.

A person should contact a doctor immediately if they notice:

  • the fetus is moving less than usual
  • the usual pattern of the fetus’ movements has changed
  • they cannot feel the fetus moving anymore

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about fetal movement.

Is it normal to feel the baby move some days and not others?

A baby may not move in the same way every day and may be more energetic at certain times than others. A person should get to know and monitor the general day-to-day movement patterns. Slight changes are not likely to be a cause for concern.

Can you get a fetus to move more?

Some people report that consuming a cold drink or eating something high in sugar may prompt a fetus to move. However, researchers have found a lack of clinical evidence to support this. Sitting quietly may be the best way to promote fetal movement.

Fetuses vary in how active they are. A pregnant person should monitor fetal movements from the third trimester to understand the general daily pattern.

There may be certain times of day when the fetus becomes more active, and movement may increase as the pregnancy progresses.

If a person notices a decrease in movement, notices the fetus is not moving, or feels a change in the usual movement pattern, they should contact a doctor, as there may be a serious cause.