When to Worry About Decreased Fetal Movement

Photo illustration of pregnant person holding their belly

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Feeling your baby move is an exciting part of pregnancy. These movements often start out as subtle flutters and eventually progress into full-blown kicks. Once you're in your third trimester, you should be regularly feeling your baby move.

Typically, your baby will have regular periods of activity alternated with periods of rest. Their movements get more vigorous as they get bigger and stronger. You can often encourage your baby to start moving by slowing down and/or eating or drinking something sweet, such as a glass of juice,

These fetal movements can also be an indicator of how your baby is doing. If you experience a sudden decrease in movements, particularly once you are in the third trimester, it is important to let your doctor know. Learn more about when to worry about a reduction in fetal movement.

Typical Fetal Movements

People typically begin to start feeling fetal movements sometime between weeks 20 and 22 of pregnancy. This usually starts later during a first pregnancy. Pregnant people usually begin noticing these movements earlier in subsequent pregnancies. Some second-time (or more) pregnant people feel quickening (as these first movements are called) as early as 16 weeks.

While it's most common to begin to feel fetal movements between 20 to 22 weeks, you may not start noticing these movements until a week or so later. It is important to remember that each pregnancy and pregnant person is different. So, don't worry if you're not able to feel your baby move by the mid-point of pregnancy. You will soon!

If you are not yet 22 weeks pregnant and you have not yet felt any fetal movement, most likely this is not a sign of a problem. This is especially true if it is your first pregnancy.

If you have been attending your prenatal medical appointments, then your physician has been monitoring the development of your pregnancy and should be able to give you some reassurance that your baby is growing the way they should.

If you have felt your baby move, but the movements have not been regular, remember that you may not feel the movements consistently until your baby is larger. As your pregnancy progresses and you reach your third trimester, you should feel your baby move regularly. This is when it's often recommended to begin to pay closer attention to your baby's movements.

As your pregnancy continues, a sudden change in the amount of fetal movement may be a red flag that there is a problem.

Notice Movement Patterns

By the time you are about 28 weeks pregnant, you should be able to recognize some kind of pattern in your baby's movements. For instance, maybe your baby is extremely active:

  • During certain times of the day
  • When you exercise
  • When you eat something sweet or drink something cold
  • When you lie down

It's a good idea to pay attention to your baby's routine so that you can notice any decrease in fetal movement. Some physicians advise monitoring the baby's kick counts to detect changes in the baby's routines. Ask your doctor for their recommendations.

Possible Causes of Decreased Fetal Movement

There are a variety of possible causes for decreased fetal movement. Many of them are not causes of concern, however, sometimes, not feeling your baby kick can be a sign that something is wrong. Always contact your doctor if you notice a sudden reduction in fetal movement over the course of several hours.

Benign Causes of Reduced Fetal Movement

There are many benign reasons why you may notice less fetal movement. These include the following:

  • You had sex. Some babies become more active after you've had sex, and others become less active. The rhythmic movements of sex and orgasm can cause your baby to sleep. Both responses are completely normal during the second and third trimesters.
  • You have been especially active. Your movement may lull your baby to sleep, or when you're busy running around, you may not notice the activity happening in your belly.
  • Your baby is sleeping. In the womb, babies typically sleep for 20-45 minutes at a time, several times a day. By the time they reach 38 weeks gestation, babies sleep as much as 95% of the day.
  • Your baby is too big to move around very much. This is common as your due date approaches and your baby gets closer to its birth weight and size.
  • Your baby is preparing for birth. If your baby's head has dropped down into the pelvis to prepare for delivery, they may be less active.
  • Your baby is too small for their movement to be felt regularly. This is common in the second trimester.

Potentially Worrisome Causes of Reduced Fetal Movement

While most often, a decrease in fetal movement is not a sign that anything is wrong, sometimes, there is a situation that needs monitoring or intervention by your doctor. The most common is that you have either low or excess amniotic fluid. If there isn't enough amniotic fluid, your baby can't move around as freely. Too much amniotic fluid may cushion their movements, making them harder to perceive.

In most cases, having low or excess amniotic fluid won't negatively impact your pregnancy. Your doctor will likely monitor your pregnancy more closely but most people with these issues continue to have healthy pregnancies.

The most worrisome cause of reduced fetal movement is fetal distress, which can occur if the baby's oxygen supply is impaired. This can happen if there are problems with the umbilical cord or placenta. Extra monitoring or delivery of your baby may be required if your baby is in distress.

If you notice fewer than 10 fetal movements in two hours, despite efforts to encourage your baby's activity (such as relaxing and drinking juice), then call your doctor.

How to Monitor Baby's Movements

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) advises that you time how long it takes to feel 10 fetal movements. ACOG recommends doing this around the same time every day (whenever your baby is most active), starting at 28 weeks (or at 26 weeks if you're having a high-risk pregnancy).

It's best to sit with your feet up or lie on your left side while performing the kick count. 

Generally referred to as a kick count, this is a tried and true way to monitor fetal movement at home. Try setting a timer and jotting down a note every time you feel movement. You may also want to download a fetal monitor app on your phone to help you keep track of movements. This can be a helpful way to start noticing and tracking daily movement patterns. Ideally, you want to track at least 10 movements in two hours.

You can also use a device called a doppler monitor. A doppler is a small handheld device that uses sound waves to monitor fetal heartbeat. You can also hear movement in the womb that you might not feel. Dopplers are commonly used in your obstetrician's office but are also available for purchase at many retailers.

How to Increase Movement

If you are concerned and want to increase your baby's movements to ease your mind, there are some things you can do to encourage your baby to be more active.

  • Drink a cold glass of water or juice. There is some evidence that a change in temperature can encourage your baby to move. Additionally, research has shown that the sugar in juice can also stimulate movement.
  • Massage or press your belly to see if the baby kicks back. Gentle palpation at the level of the baby's head can illicit movement in older fetuses.
  • Get up and walk around for a bit or do some gentle exercise. Light exercise can rouse a sleeping baby and encourage movement.
  • Have a healthy snack. Similar to drinking juice, eating will cause an increase in your blood sugar, which will, in turn, cause an increase in your baby's blood sugar. A small jolt of energy provided by the sugar may be enough to stimulate fetal movement.
  • Relax and tune into your body's sensations. Slowing down and taking time to rest and relax can help you become more aware of slight fetal movements that you may have missed while you were busy.
  • Talk to your baby or listen to music. Babies develop the ability to hear sounds inside the womb at around 18 weeks and outside the womb at around 28 weeks gestation. Talking or singing to them or playing music could rouse them if they are sleeping or motivate them to kick or wiggle if they're relaxed.
  • Change positions. If you're lying down, roll over, and if you're standing, sit down, or vice versa. A position change might be all it takes to get your baby kicking again.

After doing a few of these things, sit or lie down again to see if your baby begins moving. It may take a little while to begin feeling regular kicks.

When to Call Your Doctor

The goal is to feel a minimum of 10 fetal movements within two hours, though it may take only 15 minutes or less. Different physicians and midwives have different guidelines over exactly when to call.

Generally speaking, if you don't feel at least 10 fetal movements in two hours, call your doctor to make sure that you're not at risk for stillbirth.

If you're more than 28 weeks pregnant, your doctor may ask you to come in for a non-stress test (NST), which measures fetal heart rate and movement, to make sure that your baby isn't in distress. The results of your test will be used to determine if any further tests or interventions are needed.

A Word From Verywell

If you're not confident about your kick count or if you simply can't stop worrying about it, check in with your physician. You may feel hesitant to call your doctor if your baby's movements are decreased, fearing that you're feeling anxious over nothing.

Even though there is a good chance that everything is fine and your baby will begin kicking up a storm the instant you arrive at the doctor's office, taking that chance is preferable to sitting at home and feeling scared that something is wrong with your baby. After all, if it turns out that something is wrong, your doctor may be able to intervene.

5 Sources
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. UT Southwestern Medical Center. When should I feel my baby move?

  2. Heazell AEP, Warland J, Stacey T, et al. Stillbirth is associated with perceived alterations in fetal activity – findings from an international case control study. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 2017;17(1):369. doi:10.1186/s12884-017-1555-6

  3. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Special tests for monitoring fetal well-being.

  4. Stanford Children's Health. Fetal movement counting.

  5. Stanford Children's Health. Fetal heart monitoring.

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