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What you need to know about your baby’s movements

This is a tough blog post to write. Because it seems quite serious and a little scary. And I certainly don’t want to scare anyone but I do think your baby’s movements are something worth writing about! In my job as a community midwife, I find that pregnant folk can feel a little overwhelmed by movements. It can seem like midwives ask about movements a lot and there is so much information online that sometimes it can create a huge amount of anxiety or concern. When should I call the midwives? What if my baby is moving too much or in a different pattern to normal? What about hiccups? So in this post, I want to answer some of these common questions and discuss why your baby’s movements matter and what you should do if you have concerns. 

Should I be counting kicks?

In a word, no. Unless you want a sure fire way of driving yourself insane! The problem with counting kicks is that every baby and mum is different. There is no set number of kicks that each person feels, instead it’s about getting to know your baby and what is normal for them. Most people will begin to feel movements around 16-24 weeks depending on whether it’s your first baby or where your placenta is. The sensation of movement may be a flutter, roll, kick and these movements will be more noticeable as your bump and baby grow. From 32 weeks movements stay the same though and just because your baby is getting bigger does not mean the movements will be less. You should also feel baby move during labour too!

What about hiccups?

Ask any midwife for the most commonly asked pregnancy questions and this one is certainly up there. I cannot count how many times I have been asked about hiccups. Check out this post for a wee bit of reassurance regarding other commonly asked questions. For those of you who haven’t felt hiccups - that’s normal too! Hiccups feel slightly different to normal movements, more of a repetitive, rhythmic motion felt near where the baby’s head is lying. If ever there was a reason not to google something in pregnancy, hiccups would be it. There is some online information regarding hiccups, baby lambs and cord compression which understandably, causes a lot of anxiety but hiccups are very common and are often caused by your baby practicing breathing in the womb. As they practice these movements, they inhale amniotic fluid which causes their diaphragm to contract. The NHS website suggests hiccups are felt from 25 weeks. It’s worth noting that fetal hiccups wouldn’t count as movements as they are involuntary so don’t rely on hiccups alone to reassure you. As with everything, if you are concerned it’s worth getting it checked out.

What’s normal and when should I call the midwives?

Your baby has sleep and wake cycles whilst they are in the womb. These normally last for 20-40 minutes with periods of rest and then movement for your baby. It’s important to get to know your own baby and start to tune into your body and your baby. The NHS don’t recommend specific counters or trackers for your baby’s movement but just getting to know your own baby’s quiet and wakeful times. Although if you are super busy and find it hard to remember what you have felt, Kicks Count have these amazing wristbands (which are free if you live in Fife!). Plus you can use them to remind you to do your pelvic floor exercises once baby is here! Whilst many babies do have a pattern with movements, not all do. Personally, the movements felt a bit random with my first pregnancy (although it was always very regular) but the second time round there was much more of a pattern (after food or a cup of tea and right at the moment I was trying to get to sleep…!) If you have been rushing about all over the place, with little time to concentrate on your baby’s movements, it’s important to slow down and tune in to what you are feeling. I would also advise calling the midwives if you are concerned about any change in movements; whether they are reduced, the pattern changes or there is a sudden excess in fetal movements, get it checked out. 

Why do my baby’s movements matter?

Feeling your baby move is a sign that they are well. A reduction in movements could be an indication that your baby isn’t getting enough nutrients or oxygen in the womb. Sadly, 1 in every 200 babies are stillborn in the UK and in around half of stillbirths, the mother noticed a reduction in movements. This does not mean that it is anyone’s fault or anything that could have happened differently. It just means we need to be really vigilant about our baby and their movements.  I know that sounds scary but I think it’s important to talk about scary things sometimes. The more we talk about things like stillbirth then it makes it easier for people to ask questions, to seek help or to get support if they need it. We want parents to feel empowered about decisions and care, and that is true in any circumstance. The facts stand that there are 150-200 babies who die through SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) every year, but around 2500 stillbirths per year. We talk a lot about safe sleeping in our antenatal classes, making sure couples understand about SIDS and what this is. All of this discussion in antenatal classes, books and online, helps to keep babies safe and reduces the number of babies who we lose through SIDS. But we need to break the silence that surrounds stillbirth too. We need people to know that it can happen, that they are not to blame and that there is so much support available if they need it. We need to talk about the importance of fetal movements in the same way we talk about safe sleep - upfront, honest and supportive. 

If you have any concerns about your baby’s movements please attend your local triage unit. Do not put it off because you are busy. Never feel like you are a nuisance or in the way. Don’t worry about calling again if you have had another episode of reduced movements. It is more important that you are seen than anything else. I know the hospital can be busy and often there can be a wait, but midwives would much rather see you and reassure you that all is well. Your baby’s movements matter.

A wee reminder that our blog posts don't constitute medical advice and are our own midwifery musings based on the evidence and research we have as well as our years of experience as midwives. If you do have any concerns or worries please, please get in touch with your midwife or obstetrician.

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