Published: February 2019
Please note that this information will be reviewed every 3 years after publication.
This information is for you if you would like to know about your baby’s movements during pregnancy. It may be helpful if you are concerned that your baby has not been moving as much as usual or if you feel that your baby’s movements have changed.
It may also be helpful if you are a partner, relative or friend of someone who is in this situation.
The information here aims to help you better understand your health and your options for treatment and care. Your healthcare team is there to support you in making decisions that are right for you. They can help by discussing your situation with you and answering your questions.
This information covers:
- What are normal movements for your baby
- What affects how much you feel your baby move
- What you should do if your baby’s movements are reduced or changed
- What care you will have if your baby’s movements are reduced or changed
Within this information, we may use the terms ‘woman’ and ‘women’. However, it is not only people who identify as women who may want to access this information. Your care should be personalised, inclusive and sensitive to your needs, whatever your gender identity.
A glossary of medical terms is available at A-Z of medical terms.
Most women are first aware of their baby moving when they are 18–20 weeks pregnant. However, if this is your first pregnancy, you may not become aware of movements until you are more than 20 weeks pregnant. If you have been pregnant before, you may feel movements as early as 16 weeks. Pregnant women feel their baby’s movements as a kick, flutter, swish or roll.
As your baby grows, both the number and type of movements will change with your baby’s activity pattern. Usually, afternoon and evening periods are times of peak activity for your baby. During both day and night, your baby has sleep periods that mostly last between 20 and 40 minutes, and are rarely longer than 90 minutes. Your baby will usually not move during these sleep periods.
The number of movements tends to increase until 32 weeks of pregnancy and then stay about the same, although the type of movement may change as you get nearer to your due date. Often, if you are busy, you may not notice all of these movements. Importantly, you should continue to feel your baby move right up to the time you go into labour. Your baby should move during labour too.
During your pregnancy, feeling your baby move gives you reassurance of his or her wellbeing. If you notice your baby is moving less than usual or if you have noticed a change in the pattern of movements, it may sometimes be a sign that your baby is unwell and therefore it is essential that you contact your midwife or local maternity unit immediately so that your baby’s wellbeing can be assessed.
There is no specific number of movements that is considered normal. During your pregnancy, you need to be aware of your baby’s individual pattern of movements. A reduction or a change in your baby’s movements is what is important.
You are less likely to be aware of your baby’s movements when you are active or busy.
If your placenta (afterbirth) is at the front of your uterus (womb), it may not be so easy for you to feel your baby’s movements. Your baby lying head down or bottom first will not affect whether you can feel it move. If your baby’s back is lying at the front of your uterus, you may feel fewer movements than if his or her back is lying alongside your own back.
Certain drugs such as strong pain relief or sedatives can get into your baby’s circulation and make your baby move less. Alcohol and smoking may also affect your baby’s movements. In some cases, a baby may move less because he or she is unwell. Rarely, a condition affecting the muscles or nerves may cause your baby to move very little or not at all.
There is not enough evidence to recommend the routine use of a movement chart. It is more important for you to be aware of your baby’s individual pattern of movements throughout your pregnancy and you should seek immediate help if you feel that the movements are reduced or changed.
Always seek professional help immediately. Never go to sleep ignoring a reduction or change in your baby’s movements. Do not rely on any home kits you may have for listening to your baby’s heartbeat.
The care you will be given when you report a reduction or change in your baby’s movements depends on the stage of your pregnancy:
- Less than 24 weeks pregnant: Most women first become aware of their baby moving when they are 18–20 weeks pregnant. If by 24 weeks you have never felt your baby move, you should contact your midwife or local maternity unit, who will check your baby’s heartbeat. An ultrasound scan may be arranged and you may be referred to a specialist fetal medicine centre to check your baby’s wellbeing.
- Between 24 weeks and 28 weeks pregnant: You should contact your midwife or local maternity unit, who will check your baby’s heartbeat. You will have a full antenatal check-up that includes checking the size of your uterus, measuring your blood pressure and testing your urine for protein. If your uterus measures smaller than expected, an ultrasound scan may be arranged to check on your baby’s growth and development.
- Over 28 weeks pregnant: You must contact your midwife or local maternity unit immediately. You must not wait until the next day to seek help. You will:
- be asked about your baby’s movements
- have a full antenatal check-up, including checking your baby’s heartbeat.
- Your baby’s heart rate will be monitored, usually for at least 20 minutes. This should give you reassurance about your baby’s wellbeing. You should be able to see your baby’s heart rate increase as he or she moves. You will usually be able to go home once you are reassured.
- An ultrasound scan, to check on the growth of your baby as well as the amount of amniotic fluid around your baby, may be arranged if:
- your uterus measures smaller than expected
- your pregnancy has risk factors associated with stillbirth
- the heart-rate monitoring is normal but you still feel that your baby’s movements are less than usual.
The ultrasound scan is normally performed within 24 hours of being requested.
These investigations usually provide reassurance that all is well. Most women who experience one episode of reduction in their baby’s movements have a straightforward pregnancy and go on to have a healthy baby.
If there are any concerns for your baby, your healthcare team will discuss this with you. Follow-up scans may be arranged. In some circumstances, you may be advised that it would be safer for your baby to be born as soon as possible. This would depend on your individual situation and how far along you are in your pregnancy.
When you go home you will be advised to keep an eye on your baby’s movements and, should your baby have another episode of reduced movements, you must again contact your midwife or local maternity unit immediately. You should never hesitate to contact your midwife or local maternity unit for advice, no matter how many times this happens.
If you are asked to make a choice, you may have lots of questions that you want to ask. You may also want to talk over your options with your family or friends. It can help to write a list of the questions you want answered and take it to your appointment.
Ask 3 Questions
To begin with, try to make sure you get the answers to 3 key questions, if you are asked to make a choice about your healthcare:
- What are my options?
- What are the pros and cons of each option for me?
- How do I get support to help me make a decision that is right for me?
*Ask 3 Questions is based on Shepherd et al. Three questions that patients can ask to improve the quality of information physicians give about treatment options: A cross-over trial. Patient Education and Counselling, 2011;84:379-85
Sources and acknowledgement
This information has been developed by the RCOG Patient Information Committee. It is based on the RCOG Green-top Guideline No. 57, Reduced Fetal Movements, published in February 2011. The guideline contains a full list of the sources of evidence we have used.
This information was reviewed before publication by women attending clinics in Wrexham, London, Sheffield and Stockport, by the RCOG Women’s Network and by the RCOG Women’s Voices Involvement Panel.