Feeling your baby’s movements is a lovely way to get to know your little one throughout pregnancy.
Fetal movements provide reassurance of your baby’s wellbeing.
But there are many myths about babies’ movements during pregnancy.
You might hear they run out of space later in pregnancy. Or you might wonder: Do all babies go quiet before labour?
When a baby is active, it’s a strong indicator of overall health and wellbeing. Any deviation from that can be an early sign something is wrong.
If you notice a reduction in your baby’s movements, contact your doctor, midwife or maternity unit immediately for advice.
What are normal fetal movements?
Most pregnant women are aware of their baby moving by 20 weeks of pregnancy. Women who’ve had a baby before might feel movements earlier.
In a first pregnancy, mothers might not be aware of movements until much later. Babies don’t develop a regular pattern of movement before 24 weeks.
Movements are part of your baby’s healthy bone, muscle and brain development and can be defined as any discrete kick, flutter, swish or roll.
At your routine antenatal appointments, your midwife or doctor will ask you about your experience of fetal movements.
Click here to read up on important facts about your baby’s kicks.
How many movements should I feel in a day?
There’s no specific number of fetal movements that is deemed ‘normal’. Every mother will feel movements differently, and some babies are more active than others.
Movements are unique to each baby. Movement patterns will differ from pregnancy to pregnancy, and will vary with each baby that you have.
It’s important to recognise what’s normal for you and your baby, as each person’s ‘normal’ will be different.
Do fetal movements decrease towards the end of pregnancy?
Between 16 and 24 weeks of pregnancy, as your baby becomes bigger and stronger, movements increase.
Fetal movements tend to peak around 32 weeks; after that, the activity level remains steady until labour and birth.
Although your baby’s movements might plateau during the third trimester, there should be no reduction in the frequency of the movements.
You could notice a change in the type of movements as you get closer to your due date.
But the actual number of movements should remain consistent.
You might be aware of bigger movements in mid-pregnancy, and more ‘squirmy’ subtle movements in late pregnancy.
This change in the nature of your baby’s movements is considered a normal reflection of neurological development.
Fetal movements don’t decrease towards the end of pregnancy.
Any change in your baby’s movements should be reported to your healthcare provider immediately.
Do babies run out of room at the end of pregnancy?
This is a pregnancy myth that suggests babies don’t move as much because they have less room.
As mentioned above, the type of movement might be more subtle but your baby should still be moving.
It’s not a reason to justify a baby’s reduced movements.
If your baby’s movements have significantly changed, slowed or stopped at any stage of your pregnancy, you must contact your doctor or midwife.
Do all babies go quiet before labour?
The short answer is no. Babies don’t go quiet, or stop moving, before labour.
Babies move throughout pregnancy, up to and even during labour. It’s not normal for your baby’s movements to slow or stop at any point in pregnancy.
Any change or stop to your baby’s normal pattern of movement must be investigated.
Why are reduced fetal movements important?
Your baby’s movements are the best indicator of your baby’s wellbeing.
A healthy baby is active on and off throughout the day and night. Just because you’re sleeping at night doesn’t mean your baby is sleeping at the same time.
Activity indicates normal development of the central nervous system and musculoskeletal system as your baby grows.
It’s a healthy sign a baby is reacting to both the internal and external environment.
If a baby isn’t moving much, it’s often the first indication of a problem.
As adults, when we don’t feel well, we tend to rest and don’t feel up to doing much.
Babies are the same. If they’re unwell, they conserve energy by reducing their movements. Immediate action can help determine what the problem is.
How long is too long not to feel your baby moving?
Your baby has sleeping and waking periods during the day and night.
In a healthy baby, sleep periods normally last between 20 and 40 minutes and are rarely longer than 90 minutes. Babies don’t usually move during these sleep phases.
It’s normal to expect babies to have quieter periods, and times where they are more active.
Two recommendations to find out whether your baby is asleep: resting for a while; or drink an ice-cold or sugary drink
It’s better to discuss your concerns with your care provider first.
Based on the information you provide about your baby’s normal movements, a care provider will advise you what to do next.
If you’re over 26 weeks and are concerned about your baby’s movements, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
You should be seen on the same day, for an assessment of your baby’s wellbeing.
How long should I wait?
If you’re worried your baby’s movements are reduced, don’t hesitate to contact your care provider:
- Never wait until your next appointment or scan (even if it’s coming up soon)
- Don’t ‘wait and see’ what happens
- Never wait until the next day to be assessed
- Don’t put off calling
- Don’t use handheld dopplers or mobile apps. These devices can provide false reassurance; even if you find the heartbeat, your baby might still be unwell.
- Always contact your maternity unit if you have concerns.
If there is a problem, the earlier it’s detected, the better.
What if I’m still worried after being assessed?
If, after your assessment, your baby’s movements are still reduced, and you’re still worried, contact your midwife or doctor again and raise your concerns.
Even if everything was ok when you were assessed, things can change. It’s always safer to be checked again.
What does it mean if my baby isn’t moving much?
A sudden reduction or change in your baby’s movements is potentially a sign your baby isn’t well.
Babies can slow or reduce their movement to conserve energy. It could be due to low oxygen levels, reduced nutrients, or low amniotic fluid.
Early intervention based on reduced fetal movements is important.
Research shows there’s a link between reduced fetal movements and poor perinatal outcomes, such as stillbirth.
Studies indicate 55% of women who experienced stillbirth had noticed their baby’s movements had slowed down or stopped in the week before, but hadn’t reported it.
Can babies move too much?
Lots of movement is a healthy sign of fetal development and shows babies are responding to their inner world and the outside one.
Some babies are more active than others, so it’s important you pay attention to what’s normal for your baby.
There’s usually no reason to be concerned about lots of activity. However, if it’s not the norm for your baby – for example if it’s sudden and intense – then contact your care provider.
Factors that can influence a mother’s perception of fetal movements
There are several factors that can change or influence the way you feel your baby moving:
- Anterior placenta (up to 24 weeks). A placenta attached to the front wall of the uterus can act as a buffer between you and your baby.Regardless of placenta position, any reduced movements should be reported to your care provider
- Fetal position. Your baby’s position affects where you feel movements, but shouldn’t affect how many movements you feel
- Medications. Certain medications cross the placenta and have a sedative effect on your baby. This makes your baby less active during that time.
- Smoking, or drinking alcohol. Both are associated with reduced fetal movements.
- Maternal activity. When you’re busy and active you’re distracted, and not so aware of your baby’s movements.
- Maternal glucose intake. Babies normally respond to a rise in their mother’s blood sugar with increased movements.
- Fetal malformations. Abnormalities of the central nervous system or skeletal system, and muscular dysfunction generally result in reduced fetal movement.
Even if you think there’s a reason to justify your baby’s reduced movements, contact your care provider if you’re concerned.
Should I count my baby’s movements?
It’s important you become familiar with your baby’s normal pattern of movement.
There’s not enough evidence to recommend routine or everyday use of kick charts or counts to prevent poor outcomes.
For some women, however, kick charts or counts provide a way to get to know their baby’s normal pattern of movement.
Seek advice from your care provider about kick charts or counts.
Trust your instincts
This information might leave you feeling anxious. That’s understandable.
Episodes of reduced movements, however, do not necessarily mean there’s a problem. Your baby could be having a quieter day than normal.
The only way to know for sure is to be seen and checked over by your care provider.
It will reassure you to know that 70% of pregnancies with a single episode of reduced fetal movement continue without complication.
Recognise when something doesn’t feel right – even if you can’t put your finger on what it is. Trust your own instincts. If you feel something is wrong, act on it.
You’re never wasting anyone’s time. Maternity care is a 24-hour service, and there’s always someone you can chat to about your concerns.
Just pick up the phone.