Fetal movements refer to the movements of an unborn child while in utero. They are an important indicator of fetal health in some instances, as a lack of fetal movement can signal a problem. Doctors may have expectant mothers do “kick counts” to determine the likelihood of fetal stress, or movements may be viewed on an ultrasound machine.
The first fetal movements are generally felt between 14 and 22 weeks of pregnancy. Some women report movements as early as 10 or 11 weeks, although other sensations like gas can often be mistaken for the earliest kicks. Although it is different for everyone, the first movements are described as feeling like butterfly wings, gas bubbles, flutters, or a slight poking sensation. These gradually become stronger kicks, prods, and pokes as the pregnancy progresses. Women who have had babies previously will likely notice the first movements earlier than first timers, mostly because they are better able to differentiate between other sensations and movements.
No two babies develop in exactly the same way, so even if kicks aren’t felt by 22 weeks, it doesn’t always indicate a problem. In most cases, the baby is too far into the pelvis to be felt by that time or is in another position which makes his kicking harder to feel. An overweight woman may also feel her baby’s movements later than a woman with a slender frame.
If fetal movements still aren’t felt by 24 or 25 weeks, a doctor may want to do an ultrasound to make sure the fetus is all right. In most cases, everything is fine. If a problem is suspected, however, a non-stress test may be performed or a biophysical profile. Most times, the lack of kicks this early in pregnancy does not indicate a problem. In many cases, the gestational age will be off and the mother may be a few weeks earlier in her pregnancy than realized.
Once kicks are felt regularly, mothers can begin keeping track of when their babies are most active and of how many kicks are usually felt per day. There is no need to become obsessed with counting kicks, but if fetal movements seem less frequent than usual, it may be a good idea to time them for an hour or two. At least ten movements, including kicks, flops, rolls, nudges, and hiccups, should be felt within two hours.
As general rule of thumb, kicks should be counted when the mother is lying down or sitting very still. During the day the fetus is often lulled to sleep by the frequent movements of his mom walking around or exercising, but at night he wakes up and becomes more active while she is sitting still or trying to sleep. Drinking a glass of ice water or gently poking the abdomen may also stimulate fetal activity. If few or no kicks are noticed within one or two hours, a doctor or midwife should be notified.