Was that my baby moving or was it gas?
The first trimester of pregnancy means you have to get used to a host of rather uncomfortable changes to your body.
So it’s strange, exciting, and even confusing the first time you feel another little body — your baby — moving inside.
The first fetal movements or noticeable baby flutters are called quickening.
So what does quickening feel like?
Let’s answer this and other common questions about quickening.
What does quickening mean?
The word ‘quicken’ literally means ’to make alive’.
Before the days of early pregnancy tests, quickening was the most reliable way to confirm a successful pregnancy.
Baby flutters and kicks from inside signified the child was indeed alive and growing.
Even though quickening is based on the mother’s perception of the movement she’s feeling, in ancient times the milestone served as a pivotal moment when a fetus was considered ‘animated’ or essentially human.
This notion came from the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who believed quickening was the point of ‘ensoulment’, or the moment a fetus became a person.
Of course, advances in modern medicine have revealed babies move around long before we can feel them from the outside.
This changes the potential legal and moral significance of quickening.
But nothing can take away the huge emotional impact of fetal movement that only the mother can feel.
Feeling these first movements is an intimate experience, and very reassuring.
What does quickening feel like?
I remember the first time I felt my baby move. I was sitting on the couch at home after a long day of work.
I felt a tiny tap-tap really low in my belly. I sat very still, thinking I’d imagined it.
Then again: tappity-tap-tap.
I knew it was really him. I was delighted, and enchanted with what felt like our secret communication.
I couldn’t wait to feel it again!
Early fetal movements can often be missed, or misunderstood at first.
They can be mistaken for gas bubbles or a digestive problem.
Sometimes, when you feel your baby’s movements more often, the feeling seems eerily familiar and you realise it was happening before you knew what it was.
Mothers describe the first time they felt baby move in lots of different ways:
Pulse – ‘Like a big throb, a big pulse, on and off every now and then’ – Shell, 21 weeks
Twitches – ‘The best way to describe it, especially to men, is it feels like a muscle twitch. But you know it’s your baby. It’s life that you created. It’s incredible’ – Rebecca
Muscle spasms – ‘My baby’s movement felt like little painless muscle spasms low down in my belly’ – Snacks
Ripples – ‘To me, it felt like ripples in a pond. Tiny rolling ripples from one side of my belly to the other’ – Julie
Bubbles – ‘For me, it kind of feels like a bubble popping in my tummy – Sarah
Rolls – ‘Having twins, I thought this time I might feel movement earlier than my other singleton pregnancies – but it’s around the same time as the others. Last night when I rolled from one side to the other I felt a distinctive roll – almost like I had tipped them over’ – Emily, 16 weeks with twins
Flutters – ‘It feels like a butterfly/air in your tummy. At first, I didn’t even realize that with time it gets stronger and stronger, and it’s the most magical feeling – Gina
When is the earliest you can feel quickening?
It’s possible to feel quickening, or first movements, as early as 12 weeks if the conditions are just right – for example:
- If you’ve been pregnant before
- If your placenta is in the back of the uterus
- If you have a very active baby.
In a first pregnancy, you can expect to feel baby movements around 18-22 weeks, or well into the second trimester.
After you have your first baby, in subsequent pregnancies you might notice first fetal movement sooner – at 14-16 weeks of pregnancy.
This is either because you’re more aware of what you’re looking for, or because the uterine muscles are more sensitive.
The placement of your placenta can make a difference in what you’re feeling too.
If it’s anterior, which means it’s attached to the front of your uterus, it can muffle baby kicks and make them less noticeable.
When I hadn’t felt my second baby kick by 20 weeks, I was worried.
I asked my doctor to check the heartbeat. Sure enough, my little one was active and healthy and moving around.
An ultrasound showed an anterior placenta absorbing the brunt of his movements; this made it harder to feel the baby kick.
Fetal movements or baby flutters can be easiest to notice when:
- You’re sitting still, often at the end of the day
- You’ve just eaten a snack or a glass of juice that raises your blood sugar
- You get a jolt of adrenaline, such as when you hear a sudden loud noise.
If you haven’t been able to feel baby’s movement for the first time by 24 weeks of pregnancy, you might want to seek reassurance by checking in with your healthcare provider.
Where in your belly do you feel quickening?
When quickening starts to happen in the fourth or fifth month of pregnancy, the top of the uterus (fundus) is somewhere near the level of your belly button.
Because your uterus is still low in your belly, you might feel your baby in your abdomen, below your belly button.
At this stage, baby has lots of room and enough amniotic fluid to roll and flip into different positions.
Because of this, you might feel movement and kicks quite low – near your pubic bone or a bit higher.
Can quickening come and go?
It’s normal to feel your first quickening and then feel disappointed when you don’t notice it again for a few days.
As the baby develops and grows stronger, the movements and kicks will become more regular and reliable but they’ll never be constant.
Expect baby to have patterns of quiet time and active time during your pregnancy.
Studies of fetal life in the womb show babies develop waking and sleeping rhythms every day as they prepare for life on the outside.
How soon after feeling quickening do you feel kicks?
As the baby grows bigger, the sensations you feel from the inside will change from subtle to strong.
By the sixth month of pregnancy, or third trimester, you might experience kicks, jabs, punches, rolls, and even rhythmic little hiccups.
You’ll become familiar with your own baby’s unique patterns of movement, and you might have questions about how much kicking is normal or expected.
Kick counting can help track baby movement and provide reassurance of the baby’s health.
After about 28 weeks of pregnancy, you can expect at least 10 movements within a two-hour period from your little one.
For more about what to expect with first movements and when you should count kicks, check out BellyBelly’s article Baby Kicking – 9 Important Facts You Need to Know.
Can baby feel when I rub my belly?
Many pregnant women wonder: if I can feel my baby, can my baby feel me?
When the baby is tiny, and you’re still feeling movement as little flutters deep inside, the baby’s unlikely to feel you rubbing or poking your belly.
When your baby is big enough that you see kicks and changing shapes on your belly, you’ll find you can interact with each other.
Sometimes, a little foot or elbow might protrude.
When you rub or push on those baby lumps and bumps, the baby might kick back in response, or roll away.
The kicks are clueing you into who your baby is, and the movements can be communication.
This is the beginning of your relationship.
No matter how or when quickening happens for you, it’s just between you and baby. It’s a feeling you’ll never forget.