Feeling your baby move inside of you for the first time is one of the most exciting pregnancy milestones. Known as "quickening," a baby's first movements may feel like butterflies, flutters, or bubbles in your stomach. As your baby grows, their movements will change and you will feel kicks, rolls, twists, turns, and hiccups. Your baby's movements are a wonderful sign that they are growing and developing.
Fetal Movement at Different Pregnancy Stages
The fetal movements you feel will vary, depending on what trimester you are in and your baby's stage of growth and development. Being aware of your baby's movement patterns can help you monitor their well-being as they grow in your womb. If at any point you worry about your baby's movements, contact your healthcare provider.
First Trimester Fetal Movements (7-12 Weeks)
Your baby starts to move in the first trimester by the seventh to eighth week of pregnancy. Your baby is too small for you to feel movements this early in your pregnancy, though you may be able to see their movements during your first-trimester ultrasound. Researchers exploring typical fetal movements in the first trimester found that babies tend to rapidly change position and posture between 9 to 12 weeks of gestation. Common fetal movements in the first trimester include:
- Arm movements
- Head movements, both side to side and up and down
- Leg movements
- Mouth movements, swallowing, and sucking
As your baby's nervous system, muscles, and connections mature, their movements become more defined and stronger until you start to notice them for the first time.
Second Trimester Fetal Movements (13-26 Weeks)
In the second trimester, you will begin to feel your baby and get to know their movement patterns. At this stage of pregnancy, common fetal movements include:
- Eye movements
- Hand-to-face movement
- Rolls, somersaults, and step-like leg movements
First Felt Movements: Quickening
Quickening describes the first moment you become aware of your baby's movements. This usually occurs around 16 weeks to 20 weeks. If you've been pregnant before, you may notice movement earlier in your pregnancy (e.g., 14 weeks) than first-time expectant parents. Several factors influence when you first become aware of your baby's movements:
- Location of the placenta
- The amount of amniotic fluid around the baby
- Your body mass index (BMI)
At first, you may feel unsure if what you're feeling is your baby moving or your digestive system. Those flutters and "bubble pops" are indeed your baby. Before long, their movements will be unmistakable. For some pregnant people, this is a memorable bonding moment. Soon, your partner and family members will be able to feel and see your baby move.
Mid to Late Second Trimester Fetal Movements
By 24 weeks, your baby is moving around a lot. They might move their legs and change their position more often. As their movements get stronger, you might start to feel them with more certainty and you may begin to notice a pattern to their movements. Research shows that babies in utero get more and more active throughout the day with activity peaking at night.
At 28 weeks, you will be even more aware of your baby's strong turns, kicks, pokes, and jabs by his feet, and the hiccups that can move their entire body. At this stage of pregnancy, you should feel your baby move about 10 times an hour.
Fetal Movement in the Third Trimester (28-40+ Weeks)
In the third trimester, your baby is getting bigger and stronger. You may be able to guess which body parts are moving against your belly as your baby stretches, arches, kicks, and changes position. Your partner and other people will now be better able to feel and see your baby move.
Each baby and each pregnancy are different, so don't worry if your friend's baby is moving more or less than yours. What's most important is your baby's "normal." Contact your healthcare provider if you notice a significant decrease in movements.
Late Third Trimester Fetal Movements
At 36 weeks and beyond, your baby is steadily gaining weight and begins to run out of room to move around. The gymnastics that once kept you up at night may diminish, but you should still be able to feel their stretches as well as pokes from their elbows, hands, knees, and feet. You may be able to see these movements if you watch your belly while the baby is moving. If your baby is moving around less, this is typically nothing to worry about. Your baby should still be averaging about 10 movements per hour. If you notice a significant decrease in movements, contact your healthcare provider.
Fetal Movement Before Labor
By about 35 weeks to 38 weeks, your baby might turn around in utero to position themselves so that their head is down towards your cervix to prepare for labor and delivery. Though there is much less room in your womb for your baby to move around, you still feel their movements about 10 times an hour.
Fetal Movement During Labor
During labor, your baby will still be moving, although the types of movements during labor are a little different. The force of contractions pushes the baby against your cervix, which effaces and dilates to prepare for childbirth. At least one study suggests that babies tend to move more during contractions and rest in between contractions, although the study is dated and more recent research hasn't been conducted to confirm these findings.
How to Monitor and Interpret Your Baby's Movement
Regular fetal movement is a reflection of your baby's well-being. A sudden and dramatic change in your baby's movements could be a sign of distress. If you're concerned about how much or how little your baby is moving, it may be helpful to monitor their movements closely.
Counting baby's kicks (fetal movement counting) is a way to check in on the well-being of your unborn baby. Any time you think your baby is not as active as they usually are, you may want to consider doing a kick count.
Pregnancy experts offer tips to help you count your baby's kicks:
- Drink a cold beverage, such as water or orange juice, and/or eat a snack.
- Sit in a comfortable chair or relax in bed.
- Concentrate on your baby's movements.
- Note and record any kind of movement your baby makes in the space of an hour.
- If you get less than 10 kicks or other movements in an hour, eat a snack or drink a glass of juice and count again.
- Record your observations on a log.
If your baby moves less than 10 times in two hours, contact your healthcare provider. Just as they will after they are born, your baby spends time sleeping in utero. Some periods of decreased movement may just mean your baby is resting. But your provider may ask you to come in for a visit and an ultrasound to check on your baby's movements and well-being. In the third trimester, they may order electronic fetal surveillance testing, or ask you to do more frequent kick counts.
Tips to Get Your Baby to Move
Babies in the uterus respond to sound, touch, light, and activities. If you want to encourage your baby to move, you may try these tips:
- Do some jumping jacks, and then sit down to rest
- Lay down and rest
- Gently press on your belly
- Shine a flashlight on your belly
- Eat a snack or drink a cold beverage
- Talk to or sing to your baby. You can also play music for your baby by placing headphones next to your abdomen.
Once you feel your baby moving, you can take comfort in the knowledge that they are doing well. Take any concerns you have about your baby's well-being to your obstetrician or midwife.