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What is kick counting in pregnancy?
Counting kicks (fetal movement counting) in pregnancy is a way to monitor the fetus. It involves expectant parents tracking fetal kicks and movements during development in your uterus. Changes in movement patterns can sometimes indicate the fetus is under stress. Knowing the fetus's normal movement patterns can help you sense when something seems off.
The two main ways to track fetal kicks are:
- Count the number of kicks you feel in a one-hour period.
- Measure the amount of time it takes for the fetus to kick 10 times.
Most pregnant people will begin feeling the fetus 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 the fetus kick a little sooner. Fetuses 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 the movement patterns of the fetus.
Discussing fetal movements with your healthcare provider at your prenatal visits gives them insight into how the fetus is developing.
What do fetal kicks feel like?
Kicks from inside your uterus feel soft and may be hard to distinguish (especially the first movements). The fetus is small, and its movements aren’t strong. Some people describe kicks as flutters, swishes, rolls, jabs or butterflies. Fetal movements will vary depending on fetal age and 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 the movement patterns of the fetus and when it is more likely to be active.
Why should I count my fetal kicks?
Kick counting can help you be more aware of fetal movements. If you know what’s normal for the fetus, then you can more easily determine when something feels wrong. Changes in fetal movement may be an early sign of distress or can indicate a problem with the pregnancy. Once you know the fetus's activity level, you can alert your healthcare provider if changes occur.
Feeling the fetus move in your uterus is a good thing and indicates a healthy and growing fetus. But even healthy fetuses can experience distress. That's why knowing what’s normal for the fetus can be a good way to identify potential problems. A normally active fetus 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 fetal movements during pregnancy. Kick counting becomes more important in the third trimester (between weeks 28 and 40) when lack of movement may suggest the fetus 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 kicks?
There are a few ways to count fetal 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 fetal kicks:
- Choose a time when you are least distracted or when you typically feel the fetus 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 kick. 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 the fetus. Every fetus is different. You’re figuring out what’s normal for the fetus. Once you know that, you can call your healthcare provider if you notice significant shifts in fetal 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" the fetus or you can try again when the fetus is more active.
If you still can't feel the fetus move, contact your healthcare provider for advice.
When should I feel the fetus kick the most?
Fetal movements are unique, just like fetuses. You may notice the fetus 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 the fetus moving during the day because you're busy, at work or caring for your other children.
Fetuses 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 your uterus.
How do I wake the fetus up to count kicks?
It might be easier to count kicks once you determine the active times of the day for the fetus. Even then, there will be times when the fetus doesn’t want to cooperate. Some things you can try to get the fetus 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 the fetus hasn’t moved in several hours. It’s normal for fetuses to have periods of rest, sleep and activity — just like you.
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 the fetus is thriving, monitoring fetal movement shouldn’t be something to worry about.
When should I contact my doctor?
Contact your healthcare provider if fetal 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 the fetal heart rate or perform an ultrasound to make sure everything is OK.
Do fetuses kick less before labor?
No, fetuses don’t move less before labor. By the time the fetus 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 the fetus. Contact your healthcare provider if you notice changes in your fetal movements.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Kick counts are a great tool for monitoring the well-being of the developing fetus. 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 the fetus kicking, rolling, fluttering or moving in your uterus during that time. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about fetal movements. They may want to evaluate you and the fetus to make sure everything is progressing OK.
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