What to Do When Baby Is Not Moving As Much As Usual

Pregnant woman in bed

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Whenever you feel like your baby is not moving as much as usual—especially when you're far enough along that you've been feeling regular movement—it is best to call your healthcare provider. There is a good chance that there is nothing wrong with the baby, but it is important that you discuss any changes in your baby's movement with your physician or midwife.

In some cases, decreased movement may be an early warning sign of a condition that could lead to stillbirth, so it is absolutely best to err on the side of caution.

If you are sure your baby's movements have become less frequent than usual, such as if you've been monitoring kick counts, you need to call and discuss this immediately with your physician or midwife.

When Does Fetal Movement Begin?

As your baby develops and grows, their movements in the womb become more noticeable. First time parents may not feel these movements until 18 to 20 weeks gestation, while parents who have been pregnant before may feel them as early as 13 to 16 weeks. All babies and pregnancies are different, and the range of when movement is first detectable is large—all the way up to 25 weeks in some cases.

Early movements are frequently described as flutters and may sometimes be confused with gas or other digestive system movements. As your pregnancy progresses, you'll feel more definite movement from your baby.

Fetal Movement in the Second Trimester

Fetal movement in the second trimester can vary a lot. From those first fluttery movements early in the second trimester all the way to more robust kicks and wiggles as you near your third trimester, your baby is growing a lot during this time, and their movements change as time passes.

Early to midway through the second trimester, you should begin to feel movement. At first, movements will be quick and easy to miss, similar to gas bubbles or butterflies. You may not notice a definite pattern to these movements yet, and they may not come frequently.

As the second trimester progresses, those quick flutters will become more intense and more frequent. You may even begin to feel your baby's hiccups later in the second trimester. These feel like rhythmic pulses or jumps, and you might even see your belly move in time with them.

Fetal Movement in the Third Trimester

The third trimester is when your baby's movements really pick up. You'll begin to feel kicks and stretches and wiggles, and you may be able to see your belly change shape as your baby moves around. This is when you will likely start to notice a pattern developing.

You'll be able to determine if you baby is more active at night or in the morning, whether certain foods correlate to increased movement, and whether certain activities stimulate movement. As the third trimester progresses you may notice less frequent movement and that is completely normal. As your baby grows and starts gaining fat, they don't have as much room to shift around anymore. There will still be movement, it just might not be as chaotic or frequent as it was earlier.

Monitoring Kick Counts

During the second or third trimester, your healthcare provider might suggest you start doing a regular kick count. A kick count, also called a fetal movement count, is used to measure your baby's movement frequency and can help you establish a baseline for your baby's normal movements.

Kick counts are simple to do and can provide peace of mind if you're concerned about your baby's movement. Try to perform a kick count around the same time each day, preferably during a time when your baby is usually active, so you get an accurate count. If they usually start kicking after you eat, for example, have a snack and then lie down for a few hours while counting the number of times you feel them kick.

If you feel at least 10 kicks or movements within an hour or 20 within two hours, everything is likely fine. If you feel fewer, call your healthcare provider and tell them your concerns.

Communicate With Your Provider

If you feel fewer than 10 kicks in one hour or 20 kicks in 2 hours, call your healthcare provider. Explain that you haven't felt your baby move as much as normal so you did kick counts. If your physician or midwife has already instructed you to monitor your baby's movement with kick counts explain that your baby kicked less than usual today.

Fetal movement can be irregular when you're still in the second trimester, and there's probably nothing wrong—but if you're worried, call your doctor or midwife.

In fact, whenever you're in doubt about whether something is normal or not during pregnancy, call the healthcare provider overseeing your pregnancy and let them make that determination. It's always better to be extra cautious with a perfectly healthy baby than to risk not getting that extra monitoring when you truly need it.

How a Doctor Will Assess Decreased Fetal Movement

If your physician or midwife feels there is a potential cause for concern based on your observations, they will probably ask you to come in for monitoring.

The most common test used with decreased fetal movement occurs is a non-stress test (NST), which gives more detailed information on your baby's heart rate pattern. During a nonstress test, your baby's heart rate will be monitored for 20 to 30 minutes to see if the rate or rhythm changes during movement or uterine contractions. The test also helps determine your baby's oxygen supply. Your physician or midwife will use this information to help determine if there is any problem with your baby.

If the results of the NST are reassuring, your physician may choose not to perform additional tests in the office and ask you to do kick counts at home. You'll be expected to call if your baby doesn't start moving more.

If the NST reveals any cause for concern, your physician will probably continue with testing right away and an ultrasound might be ordered to further examine the baby. You may be admitted to the hospital for observation and/or treatment.

It is also important to note that you shouldn't rely on a fetal heart monitor to tell you your baby is okay. Fetal dopplers and other heart monitors can only tell you that your baby's heart is beating. They can't tell you, for example, whether there is a problem with the placenta or if your baby is in other physiological distress. 

How To Get Your Baby Moving

If your healthcare provider has concluded that your baby is fine or if you want to try to get them moving before calling your physician, there are a few tricks you can try.

  • Have a glass of juice or a snack – an increase in your blood sugar will also cause a small jump in fetal blood sugar
  • Short session of gentle exercise — low-impact exercise or movement can wake your baby if they are sleeping
  • Massage or rub your belly – a gentle massage where your feel your baby's head or bottom might stimulate movement
  • Make some noise – noise from a television or music player might wake your baby, just don't turn it up too loud

A Word From Verywell

While it's important to pay attention to your baby's movements in utero, decreased fetal movement doesn't always mean there's a problem with the pregnancy. Because it's better to err on the side of caution, count your baby's kicks during the time they are usually most active.

If you count less than than 10 kicks in one hour or 20 kicks in 2 hours, call your healthcare provider with your concerns. They may ask you to come in for prenatal testing to check the health of you and your baby.

There are also methods for getting your baby to move on your own, but be sure to call your healthcare provider with any concerns.

1 Source
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Stanford Children’s Health. Nonstress Testing.

Additional Reading
  • Kick Counts. American Pregnancy Association. http://americanpregnancy.org/while-pregnant/kick-counts/.
  • Special Tests for Monitoring Fetal Health. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Special-Tests-for-Monitoring-Fetal-Health.
  • Fretts RC. Decreased Fetal Movement: Diagnosis, Evaluation, and Management. In: UpToDate, Lockwood CJ (Ed), UpToDate, Waltham, MA.

By Krissi Danielsson
Krissi Danielsson, MD is a doctor of family medicine and an advocate for those who have experienced miscarriage.