What is kick counting in pregnancy?

Counting kicks (fetal movement counting) in pregnancy is a way to monitor your baby. It involves expectant parents tracking their unborn baby's kicks and movements in the womb (uterus). Changes in movement patterns can sometimes indicate the fetus (unborn baby) is under stress. Knowing your baby's normal movement patterns can help you sense when something seems off.

The two main ways to track your baby's kicks are:

  • Count the number of kicks you feel in a one-hour period.
  • Measure the amount of time it takes for your baby to kick 10 times.

Most pregnant people will begin feeling their baby kick around 20 weeks into pregnancy. If it’s your first pregnancy, it might be later. If you’ve been pregnant before, you might feel your baby kick a little sooner. Babies move at different times and in different ways. By the time your third trimester rolls around (28 weeks of pregnancy), you should have a general sense of your baby's patterns in the womb.

Discussing your baby’s movements with your healthcare provider at your prenatal visits gives them insight into how your baby is developing and growing.

What do baby kicks feel like?

Kicks from inside your uterus feel soft and may be hard to distinguish (especially the first movements). Your unborn baby is small, and their movements aren’t strong. Some people describe kicks as flutters, swishes, rolls, jabs or butterflies. Your baby’s movements will vary depending on how old they are and will get stronger in the third trimester (28 to 40 weeks in pregnancy).

Don’t panic if you’re not sure what you’re feeling. You’ll eventually learn your baby’s movement patterns and when they are more likely to be active.

Why should I count my baby’s kicks?

Kick counting can help you be more aware of your baby’s movements. If you know what’s normal for your baby, then you can more easily determine when something feels wrong. Changes in your baby’s movement may be an early sign of distress or can indicate a problem with the pregnancy. Once you know your baby’s activity level, you can alert your healthcare provider if changes occur.

Feeling your baby move in your uterus is a good thing and indicates a healthy and growing baby. But even healthy babies can experience distress. That's why knowing what’s normal for your baby can be a good way to identify potential problems. A normally active baby that slows down may concern your healthcare provider.

When should I start counting kicks?

It’s a good idea to always be aware of your baby’s movements during pregnancy. Kick counting becomes more important in the third trimester (between weeks 28 and 40) when lack of movement can suggest your baby is stressed. Talk with your healthcare provider about when to do kick counting or how many kicks you should feel. There is a range of what's considered normal, and only you and your provider can decide what's normal for you.

How do I count my baby’s kicks?

There are a few ways to count your baby’s kicks. Using an app on your phone may help, or you can use a timer or clock and a piece of paper.

Ten movements (kicks, flutters or rolls) in one hour is considered typical fetal movement. Don't panic if you don't feel 10 movements in an hour. Feeling fewer than 10 kicks doesn't mean something is wrong. It may also take a little longer than one hour to feel 10 movements. This is usually OK and not a cause for worry.

Here are the steps to count your baby's kicks:

  • Choose a time when you are least distracted or when you typically feel your baby move.
  • Get comfortable. Lie on your left side or sit with your feet propped up.
  • Place your hands on your belly.
  • Start a timer or watch the clock.
  • Count each of your baby’s kicks. Keep counting until you get to 10 kicks.
  • Once you reach 10 kicks, jot down how many minutes it took.

Alternatively, you can set a timer for one hour and grab a piece of paper. Once the timer starts, make a mark on the paper each time you feel a kick. At the end, tally up the number of marks you've made. Remember, you're looking for 10 movements in one hour.

After a few days of kick counting, you'll notice patterns and what’s normal for your baby. Every baby is different. You’re figuring out what’s normal for your baby. Once you know that, you can call your healthcare provider if you notice significant shifts in your baby’s movement patterns.

How many kicks should I feel in a day?

Healthcare providers have different opinions on how many movements you're looking for within a set amount of time. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that you time how long it takes you to feel 10 kicks, flutters, swishes or rolls. Ideally, you want to feel 10 movements within two hours.

If you don't feel 10 movements in two hours, it's OK. There are ways to "wake up" your baby or you can try again when your baby is more active.

If you are still unable to feel your baby move, contact your healthcare provider for advice.

When should I feel my baby kick the most?

Your baby’s movements are unique, just like them. You may notice your baby is more active at certain times during the day. It’s common for pregnant people to notice more movement after they’ve eaten a meal. This is because of the increase in sugar (glucose) in your blood. Others notice more movement in the evenings when they are going to bed. It may also be that you simply don’t feel your baby moving during the day because you are busy, at work or caring for your other children.

Babies also tend to be more active at night. Experts believe this might be because your movements during the day help rock them to sleep in the womb.

How do I wake my baby up to count kicks?

It might be easier to count kicks once you determine your baby’s active times of the day. Even then, there will be times when your baby doesn’t want to cooperate. Some things you can try to get your baby to move are:

  • Taking a walk or moving your body.
  • Drinking juice or another sweet beverage.
  • Eating a meal.
  • Laying down on your left side (this maximizes blood flow).
  • Playing loud music.

When should I worry about low kick counts?

Try not to be alarmed if your baby hasn’t moved in several hours. It’s normal for babies to have periods of rest, sleep and activity — just like adults.

In some cases, you may just need to increase the time to two hours instead of one hour. If after two hours you haven’t felt 10 movements, it might be time to let your healthcare provider know. They can decide if more monitoring is necessary based on your pregnancy and health history.

Remember, kick counting shouldn’t make you stressed. Talk to your obstetrician or midwife to see how many kicks you can expect to feel each day and what to watch for. If your pregnancy is healthy and your baby is thriving, monitoring your baby’s movement shouldn’t be something to worry about.

When should I contact my doctor?

Contact your healthcare provider if your baby’s movements change abruptly, slow down or stop. Most of the time decreased fetal movement isn’t a sign of a problem. It's better to be safe than sorry and let your healthcare provider know. They can check your baby’s heart rate or perform an ultrasound to make sure everything is OK.

Do babies kick less before labor?

No, babies don’t move less before labor. By the time your baby is full-term (39 weeks), you may feel more rolls and fewer kicks. Some people mistake this for less movement when it’s just a different type of movement. You should still be able to feel the same number of movements per day. Remember, only you know what is normal for your baby. Contact your healthcare provider if you notice changes in your baby’s movements.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Kick counts are a great tool for monitoring your unborn baby’s well-being. Decreased movement can be an early warning sign of a problem in pregnancy. This is not always the case. But if you know their regular pattern and the normal number of kicks, you may notice changes more quickly. To do a kick count, set a timer and track the number of movements you feel in an hour. You should feel your baby kicking, rolling, fluttering or moving in your uterus during that time. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about your baby’s movements. They may want to evaluate you and your baby to make sure everything is progressing OK.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/19/2022.

References

  • American Pregnancy Association. Counting Baby Kicks.. (https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/while-pregnant/counting-baby-kicks/) Accessed 7/18/2022.
  • Bryant J, Jamil RT, Thistle J. Fetal Movement. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470566/) [Updated 2021 Jul 27]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Accessed 7/18/2022.
  • Count the Kicks. Frequently Asked Questions. (https://countthekicks.org/content/uploads/2021/02/CTK_FAQ.2019_English.pdf) Accessed 7/18/2022.
  • Society of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians of Canada. Fetal movement and kick counts. (https://www.pregnancyinfo.ca/your-pregnancy/healthy-pregnancy/kick-counts/) Accessed 7/18/2022.

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