Fetal movements – the important stuff

  • First fetal movements (FM): often felt at around 18-20wks in first pregnancy (but could be earlier or later). Commonly about 2 to 3wks earlier in 2nd and subsequent pregnancies. If the placenta is on the front wall of the uterus (anterior placenta) it will commonly be later (placenta acts like an extra layer on cushioning).
  • Early FM can be a bit intermittent (ie it is ok to have a day without fm at these early stages). Your partner will often be able to feel FM externally about 2-4wks after you start feeling them.
  • Daily FM: From about 26wks YOU SHOULD FEEL FM EVERY DAY.
  • FM counting: counting/charting the number of FM each day has not been shown to improve pregnancy outcomes HOWEVER becoming familiar with YOUR baby’s pattern of movements is very important.
  • Decreased/absent FM: A significant reduction in (or absence of) FM should always be acted upon. You should: Sit or lie down somewhere quiet where you can focus on baby’s movement (babies move more when you are sitting or lying). Within 30mins or so you should feel baby move (eating or drinking does not change baby’s movement pattern). If you do not, this does not mean that there is something wrong however there is a need for further evaluation & regardless of time of day or day of the week you should contact the Birth Unit at your hospital & discuss with the midwife on duty. They will usually recommend that you come in for a fetal monitoring (CTG) which is another way of assessing fetal wellbeing.
  • Persistently reduced FM: If reduced FM persists over a few days you should do the same thing (as above).
  • Increased FM are not usually of significance.
  • Fetal hiccoughs are quite common (regular rhythmic movements) & are of no significance. Some babies get hiccoughs very often, others rarely.
  • Reduced FM in late pregnancy as a sign of impending labour:  Sometimes women tell me that they have heard that FM reduce or cease in the days prior to labour – THIS IS NOT CORRECT. Diminished or absent FM always requires action – as above. FM will often become less vigorous in last few weeks of pregnancy (due to lack of space) BUT there should always be sufficient periods of activity each day to make you feel reassured of your baby’s wellbeing.