When You Should Worry About Decreased Fetal Movement

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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. 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.

Typical Fetal Movements

People typically begin to start feeling fetal movements sometime between weeks 16 and 22 of pregnancy. This usually starts later during a first pregnancy. People usually begin noticing these movements earlier in subsequent pregnancies.

While it's common to begin to feel fetal movements between 16 to 22 weeks, you may not begin noticing these movements until later. It is important to remember that each pregnancy is different. First-time moms tend to feel movement later than moms who have given birth in the past. But many moms worry when they are not able to feel their babies move.

If you are not yet 25 weeks pregnant and you have not yet felt any fetal movement, most likely this is not the 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 he or she 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. You should begin to pay closer attention to your baby's movements at this point in pregnancy.

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 to 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.

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. 

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.

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. If you feel that your baby is not moving as much as you'd expect:

  • Have a snack or a drink of juice
  • Gently poke or press your belly to see if the baby kicks back
  • Get up and walk around for a bit or do some gentle exercise
  • Talk to your baby or listen to music

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) to make sure that your baby isn't in distress.

If you're not confident about your kick count or if you simply can't stop worrying about it, call 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 chance that 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.

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Article Sources
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  1. Bryant J, Jamil RT, Thistle J. Fetal movement. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. Updated May 13, 2020.

Additional Reading
  • "Kick Counts." American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2015).
  • "Special Tests for Monitoring Fetal Health." American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2013).
  • American Pregnancy Association, "First Fetal Movement: Quickening" Jul 2007.