This is the most frequently-asked question by all pregnant women. The easiest way to know your baby’s welfare is to monitor her movements. If this is your first pregnancy, you may not feel your baby moving, also called quickening, until about 16-20 weeks. For subsequent pregnancies, you may feel the movements as early as 10 -12 weeks. The reasons for this wide time span are:
- Women who are very thin, or have had previous pregnancies, often start to feel their baby earlier than women in their first pregnancy.
- If a woman is overweight, the extra fat around her belly could shield some of the movements.
- Another thing to consider is the position of the placenta. If the placenta is positioned in the front of the uterus, it functions as a pad as the baby kicks. It will take longer for the mother to feel her baby kick. The baby will have to get bigger and stronger in order for her movements to penetrate across the placenta.
- However, some women may feel the baby kick at the side or back of the uterus.
What does it feel like?
Most women describe the early movements like the flutters of a butterfly, gas in the tummy or hunger pangs. Initially, the movements are few and far between. As the baby grows bigger you will feel definitive jerks, jolts and kicks which becomes stronger as your pregnancy advances. During the third trimester, you may actually see ‘bumps’ or ‘lumps’ on your abdomen over the spot where your baby kicks.
In the second half of pregnancy, many babies get hiccups several times a day, and the mother may feel her baby hic, hic, hiccupping for 20 minutes or more. This is normal so do not worry about it.
Where you should feel baby kicking depends on her position in the womb
Cephalic or Vertex position
In this position you will feel the kicks in the top half of your abdomen because that is where the feet are. Sometimes you may feel lighter movements at the side because your baby is moving her hands.
In this position you will feel the kicks in the lower half of your abdomen. However, if your baby’s legs are straight and not curled up you will feel the kicks at the top.
This position is common only in women who have had many babies. The kicks will mostly be at the side of the abdomen depending on where the legs are.
How often should my baby move?
Every baby is different so there are no exact set patterns. There may be periods of intense activity (baby is awake) or periods of non activity (baby is sleeping). Some babies are very active after mummy has a meal, in the morning or at night. Get to know your babies pattern but do not become obsessed about it. If your baby is active during the day and quiet at night this is good so do not change your own activities. If your baby is very active at night then you may want to try and change this pattern otherwise she will not sleep at night after birth. This is what you can try: at your bedtime play soft soothing music, lie down, wish your baby goodnight and then gently massage your abdomen as if you are putting your baby to sleep. You will find after a while your baby will relax and reduce her movements. When you wake up in the morning, gently pat your tummy and say good morning to your baby. Play louder active music or songs and talk to your baby. However, I cannot guarantee that this will work for you as I have said before that every baby is different.
Now that you have an idea about your baby’s movements and ‘routine’ you just have to continue to be aware of her movements so that if there are any changes you will be able to pick it up straightaway.
The most common change in a baby’s activity is decreased movements. This could be due to several reasons:
- There is not enough space in the womb for the baby to move. This is very normal towards the last few weeks of pregnancy or if you are expecting twins.
- There may be a problem with the umbilical cord causing reduced blood supply to the baby. Examples are a knot in the umbilical cord, the cord is wound round the neck or the baby’s head is pressing on the umbilical cord.
- There may be a problem with the placenta. Examples are the placenta is not functioning properly anymore, premature separation of part of the placenta.
- The mother has a medical condition that is causing reduced supply of oxygen to the baby. Examples are high blood pressure, poorly controlled diabetes, severe asthma etc.
If at any time you notice that your baby’s movements have decreased significantly, you must go back to your obstetrician immediately so that he can check your baby and find the cause. I have had many patients who followed this advice and they were able to save their babies in the nick of time. Most times there is no problem but at least you know and can be assured that your baby is fine. For the few minorities, the time available to save the baby is crucial.