Quickening in Pregnancy
What is quickening in pregnancy?
Quickening is when you feel your baby's first movements during pregnancy. It may feel strange to feel your baby move in your uterus (womb) at first. You may not know if it's your baby moving, gas or something else. Once you start to feel these tiny "quickening" movements, it can be reassuring that your unborn baby (fetus) is healthy and growing. Feeling your baby move can deepen the bond and connection you feel during your pregnancy.
What does quickening in pregnancy feel like?
Quickening feels different for everyone. Some of the terms people use to describe quickening are:
- Fluttering like a butterfly.
- Tapping or tiny pulses.
- Bubbles popping.
- Tiny muscle spasms.
- Light rolls or tumbles.
It may be confusing at first to pinpoint what you're feeling. Your baby is small, and their movements are subtle and soft. Over time you will become more familiar with your baby's movement patterns, and the movements will get stronger.
When in pregnancy do you feel quickening?
Your unborn baby will begin moving around 12 weeks of pregnancy, but you probably won't feel it yet. If you've been pregnant before, you may sense quickening by about 16 weeks in pregnancy. However, if this is your first baby, it's common not to feel movement until 20 weeks.
Some factors that impact when you feel quickening are:
- If you've had a baby before. Your uterine muscles may be more relaxed from prior pregnancies and more sensitive to movement. Also, you know what to expect as compared to a first-time parent.
- The location of your placenta. An anterior placenta (the placenta is between your uterus and belly) may make it harder to feel the first movements.
- If your baby is generally inactive or active.
Where do you feel quickening in your belly?
Quickening is typically felt low in your belly, near your pubic bone. Early fetal movements are subtle, and your baby is still tiny. At around 12 weeks in pregnancy, your uterus is low in your abdomen or at your pubic bone. When you're 20 weeks pregnant, the top of your uterus (fundus) is at your belly button. This means you won't feel movement much higher than your belly button until after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
How often should you feel quickening?
It varies. You should generally feel some movement by 20 to 24 weeks in pregnancy. Talk to your midwife or obstetrician to get an idea of what you can expect for those early fetal movements. It may help to see your baby on an ultrasound or listen to their heart on a fetal heart monitor (monitors will pick up your baby's swooshing movements, too).
By the third trimester (28 weeks), you should feel at least 10 movements in two hours.
If you feel your baby move less than this or are still waiting for your baby's first strong kicks, try not to panic. Chances are your baby is perfectly healthy, and its movements are not strong enough to feel yet. Talk to your healthcare provider if you're concerned. They can reassure you that your baby is OK or perform additional tests.
When will quickening turn to real kicks?
Your baby's movements become stronger and sharper as you enter your third trimester. You may feel kicks, jacks, punches, elbows and somersaults in your uterus. Later, you may even feel tiny hiccups.
You'll get familiar with your baby's kicks and notice patterns of movements. Counting these kicks can help you figure out what's normal for your baby. Knowing what's normal for your baby helps you sense when something feels off. If you notice any sudden changes in movement (slowing down or stopping for several days), talk to your midwife or obstetrician. It's usually not a cause for worry, but it may be reassuring to check with your provider.
Why does my baby need to move?
Your baby needs to move in the womb to help develop their joints, muscles and bones. Movement helps them grow. Stretching, kicking and moving prepare your baby for life outside the womb. If your baby isn't moving around in your womb, it could indicate a problem with amniotic fluid levels or your placenta. Don’t panic if your baby is not overly active. Simply contact your midwife or obstetrician who will be happy to make sure everything is normal.
Can quickening come and go?
Yes, it's normal to feel your baby on and off. It may sometimes feel like it's been a few days since you felt a movement. Once quickening turns to strong kicks and wiggles, your baby's movements will become more regular and consistent. Remember, your baby sleeps and rests just like you do, so periods of inactivity will happen. Try not to worry too much. If it helps, talk to your healthcare provider about what you can expect each day.
Care and Treatment
How do you monitor quickening?
It may be hard at first to track quickening. However, once your baby's movements are stronger and you can distinguish kicks and jacks, you may want to pay attention to how often you feel your baby move. You'll notice a pattern over time. For example, your baby may be super energetic in the hours after dinner and before bed. Knowing your baby's patterns can help you recognize if something changes. If you notice a change, you should reach out to your midwife or obstetrician.
How can I get my baby to move more?
Your baby has a sleep-wake cycle just like you. There will be times when they're wiggling like a worm in your belly and other times when you don't feel them at all. Babies also tend to be less active during the day. This is because your movements may be rocking them to sleep.
If you haven't noticed your baby move, here are some things you can try:
- Drink a sugary beverage like juice or eat a meal.
- Take a walk.
- Tap or rub on your belly.
- Play loud music or have someone talk into your belly.
- Sit with your hands on your belly and concentrate for several minutes. It may just be that you are too busy to notice movement until you relax.
Talk with your midwife or obstetrician if none of this works and you still don't feel tiny movements each day.
When to Call the Doctor
What do I do if I don't feel my baby moving?
Once you begin keeping track of your baby's kicks and movements, you can establish your baby's usual habits. This can make it easier to sense when something feels off. Most of the time, small shifts in your baby's patterns are not a reason to worry. However, contact your healthcare provider if you don't feel 10 movements within several hours. Ten kicks in two hours is the most widely accepted range, but your provider can talk you through what's normal and what you can expect.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is quickening painful?
No, quickening isn't painful. Your unborn baby's movements shouldn't hurt you. Let your midwife or obstetrician know if you feel severe cramping or pain during pregnancy or when your baby moves. They may want to discuss what you're feeling and make sure everything is OK.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Feeling the first flutters of your baby (or quickening) is an exciting time during pregnancy. It's normal to be confused at first, especially if it's your first baby. Most people feel their baby move by 20 weeks in pregnancy and describe it as bubbles popping or light tapping. If you don't feel quickening, try not to panic. Everyone experiences pregnancy differently, and every baby is unique. Your healthcare provider can reassure you that everything is OK and help you determine what normal movement feels like for your pregnancy.
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