Quickening, Baby’s Movements in Pregnancy and Kick Count

There are many new experiences for the first time mother as a pregnancy progresses. One of these is the feeling of the baby kicking. Not only is it a ‘strange’ sensation that can also be felt by others who choose to but these kicks have medical significance. It is a consequence of the unborn baby’s normal growth and development. However, eventually the number of kicks may be medically relevant, especially in high risk pregnancies.

What is Quickening?

Quickening is where the mother can first feel the unborn baby’s movement in her womb, and include kicks. This usually occurs around 18 to 20 weeks of pregnancy but can also occur later in a normal and healthy pregnancy. These movements can occur much earlier, even as early as 14 to 16 weeks, in successive pregnancies (after the first pregnancy). Initially it may be difficult to discern.

It is not uncommon for mothers, especially first time mothers, to mistaken these fetal movements for gas or bowel motions. These fetal movements may be described differently. Most pregnant women report it as a fluttering, tickling, twitching or bubbling sensation below the level of the umbilicus (belly button). However, some women may experience it uncharacteristically where it is uncomfortable but not painful.

When are fetal movements felt?

Initially most pregnant women will feel the first movements when sitting or lying still. Although the movements may be present during other times of the day whilst the mother moves around, it is often not palpable during these times. However, the sensations become more forceful, frequent and is therefore much easier to feel by the end of the secon trimester.  In the third trimester the baby can move as much as 30 times in an hour.

The unborn baby has certain patterns of sleep and activity, which may not correlate with the mother’s schedule. It is commonly observed that the baby is most active between 9PM and 1AM in the mother’s womb. Usually this is after the mother’s evening meal. However, it is important to note that each pregnancy varies. Similarly each baby may behave in a different way and exhibit different patters of behavior.

After 36 weeks of pregnancy, the movements usually become less due to the limited space in the uterus. The baby cannot move around with the same ease. This can be concerning for first time mothers who have become accustomed to baby’s activity in the months prior. However, it is not usually a cause for concern if prenatal assessments confirm that baby is healthy.

Read more on spontaneous abortion.

What causes the movements?

The unborn baby exhibit similar activity as a newborn. The baby will stretch, move their arms or legs, kick, roll and tumble within the uterus.  Similar to a newborn, the unborn baby will respons to loud noises, firm pressure/touch to the mother’s abdomen and uncomfortable positions will also trigger movement.  Even hiccups occur in the unborn baby and this may be felt by the mother as twitches.

Similarly baby will be very still and inactive during certain periods, like when the baby is asleep. There are many theories as to what external factors could trigger more activity. The mother’s mood, emotions and even dietary choices can cause baby to become more active. Most mother’s will notice that sugary foods and drinks may cause increased or even excessive activity within the womb.

How To Measure Kick Count

The degree of the unborn baby’s movement can be a helpful indictor of baby’s health and wellbeing. Some doctors routinely recommend keeping a count of the baby’s movement while others advise it only for high risk pregnancy. However, even if it is not advised by a doctor there is nor harm in keeping count of baby’s kicks.  Being aware of and counting a baby’s movements can be reassuring.

The correct method for counting baby’s kicks is to choose a fixed time each day, usually after the evening meal.

  • The mother should sit or lie on her side and relax as much as possible.
  • Ensure that there is no significant movement on the chair, souch or bed from other sources (like jumping kids).
  • The mother must carefully monitor for any fetal movement and kicks over a two hour period should be counted.

Normally there should be at least 10 kicks or episodes of significant fetal movement. However, mothers should not panic is there are less than 10 kicks over the two hour period. Instead the mother should wait for a while, have a snack or drink like a glass of orange juice and try again.

In the event that the kick count is still less than 10 times in a two hour period then it may be advisable to call the doctor. Most of the time there is no underlying problem and the baby is just a little less active than would be expected. However, a doctor may want to conduct further investigations to check on the baby’s condition.

Also read air travel during pregnancy.

Why are baby’s movements and kicks important?

The degree of movement is an indicator of health and wellbeing. It does not only apply to the unborn child and not only to humans either. With movement being one of the characteristics of animal life, it makes sense that the ability to move and degree of movement is an important means to gauge a healthy pregnancy. Therefore a simple method like monitoring fetal movement by the mother can be very useful for detecting problems with the unborn baby.

It is important to remember that many of the modern medical devices to monitor the unborn child did not exist until recent decades. In fast these devices and techniques are still not accessible to large parts of the human population. Therefore simple method like monitoring the baby’s kicks and movements is a tool to assess whether a pregnancy is healthy. It is also non-invasive and does not pose any risk to mother or baby.

Beyond the obvious medical benefits, monitoring the baby’s kicks and movements is also comforting to the mother. It can also empower first time mothers in knowing that they have the ability to monitor the pregnancy with medical professionals and devices.

More Related Topics