Feeling Your Baby Move in Pregnancy

Happy pregnant woman and husband
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Bubbles. Butterflies. Gas. These are all words used to describe what a baby's first movements in utero feel like. Quickening is defined as the first time you feel your baby move. This is a long-anticipated event in every pregnancy.

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When You Can First Expect to Feel Your Baby Move

If you're pregnant with your first baby, you can expect to feel your baby for the first time between 18 and 24 weeks gestation. If this is not your first baby you'll likely feel your baby a bit sooner than you felt your first. This is likely because you know what it feels like and your uterus is more stretched out than it was the first time around.

If You Don't Feel Movement Yet

There may be reasons that you're not feeling movement as early as you're expecting to. Many of these are normal, including:

  • Your body weight. If you're overweight or obese, it may take a little bit longer to feel your baby move since your abdominal wall is thicker.
  • The amount of amniotic fluid. If there is less amniotic fluid, this can cause you to not feel your baby move as much because they aren't able to move around as well.
  • Location of your placenta. If the placenta is on the front wall of your uterus, it may take longer to feel movement thanks to the extra padding there.

When Others Can Feel Movement

The second big milestone is when others can also feel the baby move. This won't happen until after you feel the baby move and may be infrequent enough that it takes a while before others can feel it from the outside.

However, it's different for everyone. Your partner might be surprised by a quick thump here or there after many weeks of patiently (or impatiently) waiting. A sibling might get a quick bump on the cheek or hand and be very excited about the reality of the new baby.

Fetal Kick Counts

After the joy of feeling these first movements happens fear might set in. Is your baby moving too much? Not enough? Medical studies have found that doing ​fetal kick counts after the 28th week of pregnancy is actually one of the better predictors of fetal well-being.​

It has not been found that an active fetus will be a hyperactive child. Nor can you predict gender by fetal movements.

When Baby's Movement Becomes Uncomfortable

Towards the end of pregnancy, the movements may actually become uncomfortable or even painful. Babies have been known to kick their parents in the ribs, bladder, and anywhere else their tiny feet can reach. Typically helping baby shift position by doing some pelvic tilts will help alleviate this discomfort.

Enjoy the Movements While You Can

When you're in labor and working hard and anticipating those first cries, remember to take a moment and feel those last movements of the baby inside your body. Believe it or not, you will probably miss them.

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By Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.