A Swedish study found that although 51% of women are anxious about their baby’s movements in late pregnancy, only 4 to 15% discussed this with their healthcare provider. This is mostly because they didn’t want to be labelled “neurotic” or had read babies don’t move as much in late pregnancy.
Being aware of your growing baby can help you understand your baby’s movements and connect emotionally. Being able to discuss what you feel with your healthcare provider means you can be reassured if you find yourself worrying unnecessarily and have the confidence to ask for a check-up.
The first flutter of life, called quickening, is a magical moment. Not only does it reassure you that your pregnancy is real, it’s also an emotional connection with your unborn baby. Remember, even though your baby is moving during the first trimester, you won’t feel these movements. Quickening usually happens around 17 to 22 weeks for a first pregnancy and 14 to 16 weeks the second time around.
At first, these movements are jerky, sporadic and uncoordinated. They’re described as a “flutter”, “tapping” or “paddling”. As your baby’s muscles and nervous systems develop, movements become slower, stronger and more coordinated. This is when little arms and legs begin to stretch and bend. Your baby will yawn, hiccup, swallow, cough and have “breathing” movements. You’ll get used to the way your baby moves, which is about the same during the day and night.
As your pregnancy progresses, you’ll notice your baby develops a pattern of “play” and “sleep” time. Sleep cycles usually last about 20 to 40 minutes – usually not longer than an hour and a half at a stretch.
Your baby’s movements get stronger and happen more often until 32 weeks when they level off and stay about the same until labour starts. Due to limited womb space in the last few weeks of pregnancy, your baby’s movements are restricted, but they do decrease in strength and frequency.
Any sudden or dramatic change in your baby’s movements should be reported to your healthcare provider. Changes in your baby’s movements could mean that your baby is not getting enough oxygen and nutrients from the placenta through the umbilical cord. When this is investigated, the doctor will check your baby’s heartbeat, do an ultrasound scan and a non-stress test. If the results are good, you can go home with instructions to rest. If your doctor is worried, you will be admitted for observation, and if your baby’s survival is compromised in any way, there may be no other choice but to deliver your baby early with a C-section.
In general, doctors and midwives find moms-to-be worry when:
- The baby moves less often, or differently
- She has a fall
- Her baby is overdue
- She has had a previous stillbirth
- She is confused at the difference between her baby’s movements and contractions (especially with a first baby)
- She is distracted during the day, like at work, and hasn’t monitored her baby’s movements.
The real reasons why a baby may not be moving in utero:
- The amount of amniotic fluid (too much or too little).
- The way your baby is lying.
- The position of the placenta.
- Smoking, which interferes with the baby’s oxygen supply.
- The mom is overweight.
- Mom’s first pregnancy.
Every baby is an individual who moves in a unique way. If you get to know how your baby moves, you can almost anticipate your child’s personality – perhaps he’s quiet and placid or a Tarzan swinging on the umbilical cord.
From 28 weeks, you’re encouraged to spend about 15 minutes every day focusing on your baby’s movements – especially if it’s a high-risk pregnancy. You should do this when your baby is awake and after eating a snack containing protein, carbohydrates and natural sugars.
- Lie on your left side.
- Play quiet, soothing music.
- Focus on your baby’s movements and be aware of how often he moves and the strength of these movements, changes in these movements (are they slower, weaker, shorter or different?) and how long each movement lasts.
- Practise labour breathing and relaxation techniques taught in childbirth classes.
- Get your partner involved.
- Put your hands on your belly and talk to your baby.
- Enjoy this special time.
It’s important to tell your healthcare provider when your baby’s movements change − especially if these movements become weak, feeble and infrequent. By practising “mindfoetalness”, you’ll learn to trust your instincts and be more empowered to discuss concerns with your healthcare provider.