Women's Healthcare Topics

Quickening: First Fetal Movements

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

When Should I Feel the First Kick?

Feeling your baby move for the first time is described as one of the most exciting parts of pregnancy. For many women, their baby's first kicks make the pregnancy feel more real. It also makes you feel secure in knowing the little baby developing inside of you is growing healthy and strong.

Fetal Movements

Your baby has been on the move and squirming around in your womb since 7 or 8 weeks of pregnancy, and you may have even seen his or her movements on an ultrasound, but it's an amazing experience when you feel your little bundle of joy moving inside of you.

Most women feel their baby move for the first time between 16 and 22 weeks of pregnancy. For first-time pregnant women, they usually feel their baby's movements for the first time between 18 and 22 weeks pregnant. Experienced moms will feel their baby's subtle kicks and jabs sooner than first time pregnant moms. That's because seasoned moms are able to distinguish their baby's movements from gas, hunger pangs, and other belly problems.

Sometimes, it takes a few extra weeks for you to feel your baby's movements. For overweight or obese women, they typically feel their baby's first flutters later than a pregnant woman who is thin. The location of your placenta also plays a role in when you'll feel your baby's first movements. Women with an anterior placenta (a placenta that is situated on the front wall of the uterus) may feel their baby's kicks later.

What Will Baby's Movements Feel Like?

Your baby's first movements are called "quickening," and some women have described the sensation akin to feeling butterflies fluttering, bubbles, a tapping sensation, popcorn popping, and a goldfish swimming around.

When you first feel quickening, you can easily mistake the sensations as gas pains or hunger pangs. However, as the weeks pass, you will quickly realize that someone is tapping on your womb, saying "Hi, Mama!"

At first, your baby's movements will be seldom and far in between. You might feel a few kicks one day, and no activity the following day. You may find this worrisome, but this is normal. Your baby is indeed kicking and moving on a regular basis, but her movements aren't strong enough to be consistently noticeable. Not to worry – as your second trimester passes, your baby's jolts and jabs will get more regular and stronger.

As the third trimester begins, your baby begins to have less and less room in the womb. Her movements may start to feel more painful.

Should I Keep Track of Fetal Movements?

If this is your first pregnancy, you are probably worried about your baby's movements. Try not to be too anxious about feeling quickening. Every baby has her own degree of activity. As a rule of thumb, as long as your baby's normal activity level doesn't suddenly decrease, she's probably just fine.

Unless your doctor has asked you to keep a written record of your baby's kicks, they probably cause you to worry unnecessarily. There's no medical evidence that proves keeping count of fetal kicks is a good indication of your child's well being. As your pregnancy progresses, you'll understand the natural rhythm of your baby's movements (the usual times of when she's awake and active, as well as the normal hours that she is sleeping).

The following are four examples of criteria for reassurance of fetal well-being:

  • Perception of at least 10 FMs during 12 hours of normal maternal activity

  • Perception of least 10 FMs over two hours when the mother is at rest and focused on counting

  • Perception of at least 4 FMs in one hour when the mother is at rest and focused on counting

  • Perception of at least 10 FMs within 25 minutes in pregnancies 22 to 36 weeks and 35 minutes in pregnancies 37 or more weeks of gestation

Always let your doctor know if you notice a decrease in your baby's movements. Less movement may signal a problem, and you may need a non-stress test or biophysical profile to ensure your baby is still healthy.

If you are concerned about anything, talk to your healthcare provider.


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