There are lots of things we’re told about pregnancy, but when it actually happens to you, you realise there’s so much more to learn. In Unexpected, we’ll chart some of the less spoken about things that happen in the months between finding out you’re pregnant and giving birth.
Feeling your baby move for the first time can be an exciting and also slightly confusing time. For lots of first time mums it can be hard to tell whether the bubbly feeling in your belly is your tiny baby kicking or just, well, gas.
People will start to feel their baby’s first movements at different times, and there are a few reasons for this. If you’re a first time parent, you don’t necessarily know what baby kicks feel like so you’re less able to spot them earlier than those experiencing their second or third pregnancies.
The position of the placenta also plays a part – if yours is anterior, meaning it’s at the front of your womb, sometimes that can mask the sensation of your baby kicking, so you might not feel those movements until a little bit later compared to other expectant mums.
“Overall, most women will feel some form of movement between 13 and 23 weeks,” says registered midwife Marley Hall. So if you haven’t felt your baby move by 24 weeks, it’s best to tell your midwife.
Monitoring movements throughout pregnancy can be a huge source of stress because there is nobody else but you who is able to feel them. The responsibility to get checked – and take action, if those movements change – lies with you. It’s a lot of pressure during what can already be a stressful time.
″[Movements are] the number one concern in pregnancy,” says Hall, who runs the Instagram account @MidwifeMarley. “It’s something I get messaged about almost daily on Instagram.”
What do baby movements feel like?
Baby movements feel different to different people. “I think it’s different for everybody, but I would explain it to feel like a hiccup, a flutter or a twitch,” says Marley, who has five children.
“Most people will get one little flutter and then they might not get anything else for a few more days, and then they’ll feel another one – and then as the baby gets bigger, it gets progressively more frequent.
“Most women get to around 26-27 weeks and then the baby tends to be moving a lot at that point.”
Other words used to describe early baby movements include swirling, bubble pops, nudges, muscle twitches and a light tickle. At first it can be hard to tell the difference between baby movements and other bodily movements like gas or hunger pangs. But as baby grows, you’ll feel them more regularly and know what to look out for.
By 28 weeks, you’ll start to feel more defined kicks and jerky movements. As your due date looms closer, you’ll probably also notice your bump change shape when the force of a small bum is pressed against it, or witness the strange but comforting sight of tiny limbs pushing out from under your skin.
How often should babies move?
There is no set amount of time that babies should move – because we’re all different. As Hall explains: “It’s so different for each person and also babies are so different. When I was pregnant with my twins, I knew which one was moving and which wasn’t. One of my twins was so active and the other one really wasn’t active – and even now, they’re nearly 14 years old, one of them is like an athlete and likes to move all the time while the other one prefers to sit there and play on the Playstation.”
Over the years there have been lots of different bits of advice shared on baby movements, like ‘you’ve got to feel X number of kicks a day’. But nowadays less emphasis is placed on the number of movements in the UK, and instead it’s all about monitoring your baby’s daily pattern. Any changes to this pattern should be checked out.
“Each baby is different and I think women will get to a point where they can recognise their baby’s pattern of movement,” says Hall. “That doesn’t mean baby necessarily moves at the same time each morning or same time each night, but it’s just understanding how often your baby moves throughout the day.
“So say, for example, your baby usually shuffles around 10-15 times a day, and then one day you’ve only felt two movements, that would be a cause for concern.”
Most women tend to notice afternoon and evening periods are times of peak activity for their babies, according to the The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
Throughout the day and night, your baby will sleep for periods that mostly last between 20 and 40 minutes, and are rarely longer than 90 minutes – they will not usually move during this time.
Women should feel their baby moving right up to the time they go into labour – and during labour, too.
Why might a baby’s movements slow down?
In lots of cases, reduced movements could be down to something as simple as you being really busy and not necessarily noticing your baby move, or your baby having a good old sleep. But in other cases, there might an issue that needs checking out.
A baby’s movements are a sign of their wellbeing, so any reduction or change to these movements could indicate that your baby is unwell or not growing properly. Half of women who had a stillbirth noticed their baby’s movements had slowed down or stopped, according to charity Kicks Count.
What to do if your baby isn’t moving as much
The advice here is pretty simple: call your midwife or maternity unit and seek urgent advice – even if it’s the middle of the night.
Lots of the time they’ll ask you a few questions and then want to see you to check your baby’s heartbeat and movements. It’s likely they’ll want to check other things like your urine and blood pressure while you’re there.
Some people might be tempted to buy at-home heartbeat monitors (or dopplers) to monitor their baby’s heartbeat, but Kicks Count advises against this as “even if you detect a heartbeat, this does not mean your baby is well”.
Some people might also try to do certain things – like drinking a cold glass of water or having a snack – to try and get baby moving before calling up their midwife. Their logic is ‘oh I’ll leave it a few more hours and see if anything happens’. But Hall advises against this as “even if you have a drink and baby gives you a little kick, it doesn’t mean baby is ok”.
“I know some people worry about putting pressure on the maternity services and stuff but we’d all rather that pressure than something happening to the baby,” she says. “Any worry or any concern at all, just ring up for advice.”