The unborn baby starts to physically move by about 10 weeks of pregnancy. Their movements begin as jerky and uncoordinated actions of their arms and legs, becoming more purposeful as they mature. These early activities are not usually felt by the mother, but can sometimes be witnessed during an ultrasound.
Baby’s movements inside the womb are important:
- Stimulate the muscle growth and development
- Maintain the flexibility of the joints
- Help the shaping and strengthening of the bones
- Help the development of the nervous system
The woman will start to feel her baby move once they have grown strong enough to place an adequate amount of pressure on the walls of her uterus to stimulate the nerves in the skin of her belly. A woman’s uterus (or womb) does not have sensory nerves capable of detecting the baby’s movements, nor do her intestines that lie behind the uterus. This means that only movements that are directed towards the front of a woman’s uterus (towards her belly surface) will be felt. However, sensations may also be felt by the woman in her pelvic area around her cervix, vagina, bladder and bottom (or anus). Once the baby is quite large, movements and pressure may also be felt in the woman’s ribs, pubic bone and lower back.
During the middle of the pregnancy an unborn baby has plenty of room to move. As the pregnancy progresses and your baby grows larger in a more confined space, their ability to move freely lessens and they are restricted to pushing, turning, rolling and stretching their body, elbows, knees, hands and feet. Your baby’s ability to move may also be further restricted once their head engages during the final weeks of pregnancy. However, they should not move any less, just differently when compared to earlier in the pregnancy.
When well you feel it?
The medical term for when a woman feels her baby move is called ‘quickening’
Your unborn baby’s first movements can be difficult to distinguish, especially if this is your first pregnancy. Many describe their first sensations as a faint, fluttering feeling (like ‘butterflies’).
The timing of this is very individual but it will usually happen at some stage during the 2nd trimester of the pregnancy. Your partner and others will not be able to sense the baby moving by touching your belly until about 2 to 4 weeks after you do.
When you first feel your baby move can depend on many factors including:
- If this is your first or subsequent baby
Women who have had a baby before will often notice the movements much earlier.
- Where the baby’s placenta is situated
When the placenta is ‘anterior’ it can act like a small cushion between the baby and the woman’s skin. This has the effect of blunting the sensations.
- The woman’s build and size
When a woman has a fine layer of fat over her belly, the baby’s movements can be more readily sensed by the nerves in her skin.
Baby movement pattern
Unborn babies have definite ‘sleep and wake’ cycles. These will vary from baby to baby but it is thought that they can sleep for as much as 85 to 95% of the time while inside the uterus. Unborn babies are usually active every 1 to 2 hours for about 10 to 40 minutes or so, before drifting back off to sleep.
As the pregnancy progresses, you may notice that your baby has regular ‘wake periods’ around the same time each day (For example, in the evenings just when you are going to bed!).
Other things that may affect your baby’s movements are:
- The way the baby is lying
Depending on what position your baby is in they may tend to be more or less active. Movements to the back of the uterus are not really felt as much as movements to the front of the belly.
- What you eat
Unborn babies can respond by moving about 20 minutes or so after their mothers eat or drink certain foods. This can occur after having something very sweet or sugary (such as chocolate, a fizzy drink, ice cream or cake) or after having something that has a stimulant in it, such as caffeine in cola and coffee drinks.
- Your activity
Physical activity can stimulate a baby’s movement and many women notice their baby is very active after a swim or long walk.
Babies are capable of hearing from about 19 to 26 weeks of the pregnancy and are known to respond to familiar noises after being born (such as their mother’s, father’s or a siblings’ voice).
- Your baby’s personality
You may find that you have a ‘quieter’ baby who tends to move comparatively less, or a more active baby compared to a previous child.
Concerns about baby movements
Many pregnant women at one stage of their pregnancy will express concerns about they haven’t felt their baby move for a while.
Movements of your baby are a positive sign that they are indeed alive and your doctor will often ask whether you have felt your baby move at your pregnancy visits. Even so, there can be many reasons why you may not sense your baby move for various periods of time, often because they are asleep.
If you are concerned about your baby’s movements try the following in an attempt to get them to move:
- Resting without distractions, usually lying down on your left side. Your baby should move within 60 to 75 minutes. Some women find having a deep bath helps.
- Having icy cold water. For some reason this seems to work
- Gently massaging your belly with your fingers
If your baby is still not responding in any way after an hour or two, you should contact your doctor or the delivery suite of the hospital you are attending for advice. They will usually advise you to come in to place you on a CTG monitoring machine to record the baby’s heart beat over 20 to 30 minutes or so.
It is better to be reassured and to have peace of mind that your baby is OK by listening to their heartbeat, rather than continuing to be worried and concerned at home.
Your doctor may also give you a kick chart to record your baby’s daily movements for the next few days or weeks or until the end of the pregnancy.
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