You know that you've made it to the third trimester of your pregnancy when your doctor recommends that you start counting baby kicks from here on out. It's an exciting time, for sure. You're in the home stretch now and it's important to keep an eye on that little nugget to make sure he or she is doing well.
Most providers are going to recommend to you to start doing “kick counts” as a way to monitor your baby's health at home when you enter your third trimester.
Feeling your baby kick, turn, tumble, and roll are some of pregnancies finest moments. Certainly they are better than some of those pesky pregnancy symptoms that you've already been experiencing for a few months.
Even better than the excitement of kick counts, though, is the benefit of kick counts. Kick counting is an easy and reliable way to tune into your baby's well-being in between visits with your provider.
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When will I feel my baby move?
Depending on a few things such as how many babies you've had, your BMI, and where your placenta is located, you may feel your baby move for the first time at a very different time than the next woman. Everyone starts feeling flutters and movements at different stages, but typically you'll start feeling something between 15 and 22 weeks gestation.
Fortunately, starting to feel our baby move is not an indication to start tracking their movements. In the early months, movements are just to be enjoyed and savored. Your doctor won't recommend that you do “official” kick counts until you are approximately 28 weeks because at this time, your baby begins to develop a pattern.
The importance of counting kicks During pregnancy
Counting baby's movements in the third trimester is extremely important because decreased fetal movement is often the earliest sign of distress.
If you are able to tune into your baby's well-being at home, you have the opportunity to become aware of important red flags that your baby is trying to tell you when he/she isn't doing well.
There have been a number of times during my career as a labor and delivery nurse that I have encountered mothers who literally saved their babies lives by getting seen as soon as they noticed that their baby's movements had suddenly decreased.
What is the risk?
Still birth is defined as the intrauterine death and subsequent delivery of a fetus after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Studies show that stillbirth may not be a sudden event but instead, has a number of warning signs prior to fetal demise. Decreased fetal movement occurs first leading up to the possible death of a baby. It's good news, really. It means that you may have time to save your baby if you notice the warning signs.
Unfortunately, still birth still happens across the US. Thousands of babies are lost to stillbirth every year.
Counting baby kicks with the goal of catching fetal distress to save your baby's life is worth the hour or two out of your day that it takes to lie down and focus on your baby.
When to Count baby kicks
Your doctor will let you know when they expect you to start counting your baby's kicks. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends you begin counting kicks right around 28 weeks gestation. You may even need to start at 26 weeks if you are high risk or pregnant with multiples.
Once you start counting baby kicks, you need to remember to make it a part of your routine every day. Preferably, you should do your kick counts at the same time every day to keep it fairly consistent.
Pick a time based on when your baby is typically his/her most active. For me, it has always been in the evenings. When life starts winding down and I finally kick my feet up at the end of the day, my baby does the most twists, turns, and jolts than ever.
- Count your baby's kicks every day, preferably at the same time.
- Choose a time when your baby is usually active
Is there a best time of day to do my kick counts?
Typically, most pregnant mothers report that their babies are most active after eating a meal, having something sweet, drinking something very cold, or after physical activity.
Noticing your fetal movements are probably easiest at the end of the day when you start to slow down. It is difficult to notice every movement when you're driving, running errands, working, or chasing after a toddler. It is best to choose a time of day that allows for quiet-time, alone and distraction-free.
How to count kicks
You've got to know how to start counting baby kicks. Feeling occasional movements isn't enough anymore.
Here's what you do:
- Grab a cold glass of ice water or something sweet to munch on
- Go somewhere quiet and distraction-free. Turn off the T.V and put away your smart phone so that you can focus solely on your baby. (unless you're using a kick-count app)
- Sit reclined with your feet up, or on your side. Find a comfortable position that you can rest in for an hour or so if needed.
- Focus on your baby without doing any other tasks or participating in any other diversions.
- Count every movement as one “kick”. Rolls, twists, and adjustments all count as movements. They don't actually have to be strong jabs in order to count as one of your “kicks”.
- Count your baby's “kicks” until you reach 10 movements.
- Mark and track how long it takes to reach 10 movements every time. It should take an hour or less each time, but you technically have two hours.
After a few days, you might start to notice a pattern in your baby's movements. Not only will you begin to become aware of your baby's most active times, but you will also find patterns in movements and understand how much he/she will move during your kick counts.
What is a normal fetal kick count?
Every pregnancy and every baby is different. It is key to know what is normal for your baby.
Knowing your baby's normal moment pattern is important. Keeping track of your baby's daily kicks will help you figure out what “normal” is for this pregnancy.
When the baseline that you're used to suddenly changes, you'll want to take notice. It may be a sign of a potential problem.
Keep in mind that not every kick-count session will be identical. Although you are looking for patterns, each day might be a little different. If today it takes you 10 minutes but tomorrow it takes you 30 minutes to reach 10 kicks, don't stress. That is well within normal limits. On the other hand, if you always get your ten movements within 35 minutes and today it's been over an hour, you might want to drink something cold and sweet, lie on your left side, and re-test.
You aren't alone if you start to expect your babies numbers to be the same every day. I'm sure we all feel like we have to meet the bar that we've already set for ourselves each time we test. BUT try to relax just a bit because there can be a wide range in your baby's “normal” kick counts.
How Many kicks should I feel in an hour?
In the third trimester, your baby should have multiple periods of active movement. During your baby's active times, he should move at approximately 6 times in half an hour or 10 movements in an hour.
These are examples of normal, expected fetal movement but the “normal range” is actually very broad. Although many times your baby should reach 10 fetal kicks in 30 minutes, it is possible to take up to two hours to reach 10 fetal kicks. This is still considered normal.
Can baby move too much?
Nope. The more the baby moves, the better. It may start getting uncomfortable for you, but there is no reason to worry about excessive fetal movement.
If, as opposed to suddenly having decreased fetal movement, now you're getting a drastic increase in fetal movement, you shouldn't worry. Chalk it up to what you ate, the activity you had, or just that you're baby is super-excited today.
You can pretty much always be more re-assured the more your baby moves. Congratulations if you have a super-happy baby!
Is it normal to feel baby move some days and not others?
Once you start feeling your baby's movements, it is no longer normal to go an entire day without feeling anything from your babe. In the early weeks and months, it's fine if you aren't feeling consistent movements throughout the day. You may not have a normal movement pattern yet, but you should at least feel some movements.
On the other hand, there are a number of reasons why you may not feel movements at certain times of day.
Baby experiences sleeping and waking cycles that may cause you to notice slow and active times during the day. Remember to record your baby's sleep/wake cycles in your pregnancy journal so that you can know what to expect.
When should I be concerned about fetal movement?
ACOG recommends that you should feel 10 fetal movements within a two hour period. Even so, there might be other reasons to get evaluated. Reasons such as:
Kick counts taking longer than usual
If your typical kick-count session takes you 20 minutes to reach 10 kicks after dinner and today it took an hour to get to 10 kicks after dinner, that is a change in your normal pattern and may be cause for concern.
Here's what you need to do if you want to make sure baby is doing fine:
- Make sure you've eaten or have something cold/sweet to drink
- Do your kick counts as usual
- If you do not reach 10 kick counts in the first hour, try for the second hour
- If you still are not meeting the kick count requirements, get up, walk around the house to get your heart pumping a bit, grab a bite to eat, and drink a large glass of ice cold water.
- Lie down on your left side and get comfortable for a re-test.
- Start counting your kicks again
- If you are not feeling baby move at all, get to the hospital right away.
- If you are not getting 10 movements in 2 hours, get to the hospital right away.
- Are you getting the minimum requirements but still are not meeting what is typical of your baby's movement patterns? Call your provider, contact labor and delivery, or go to the hospital to be evaluated. It is better to be safe than sorry.
What to do when you're concerned about your baby's well-being
A mother's instincts are extremely reliable. If you have a feeling that something is wrong, don't ignore it.
If ever you are concerned about the activity of your baby, don't hesitate to contact your provider or head to the hospital to be evaluated.
As soon as you notice that your baby's movements have become decreased, don't continue to wait and see if baby perks up again. Call labor and delivery to get advice or head into the hospital right away.
When should I contact my healthcare provider?
Communicate with your healthcare provider if:
- Your baby does not reach 10 kicks in an hour for two hours
- Your baby has a drastic or sudden change in movement patterns
- You have a intuitive feeling that something is wrong
- When in doubt, contact your provider
If you experience no movements at all and have not felt your baby move in any unreasonable period of time, do not hesitate. Get to the hospital right away. There is no need to call your provider, no need to call labor and delivery, no need to call the babysitter. Stop googling, stop everything you're doing, and get to the hospital now.
Challenges to counting baby kicks
There may be barriers to counting baby kicks throughout your pregnancy. It isn't always necessarily a walk in the park trying to get your 10 kicks in at the same time every day.
Counting kicks with an anterior placenta
If your placenta is in the front of your uterus (anterior placenta), it may be more difficult to feel your baby's movements.
This does not mean that your baby is not moving and it does not mean that you won't be able to do your kick counts.
Even with an anterior placenta, you should be able to reach your fetal kick count goals every day and be able to discern a pattern that your baby has. This pattern may seem less than pregnancies without anterior placentas, but there is nothing to worry about as long as you discover a “normal” for you and your baby and your baby sticks to that pattern throughout your pregnancy.
kick counts in the middle of the night
We've all done it. We wake up to pee in the middle of the night and when we make it back to bed we realize that we “haven't felt baby all night”. The problem is that you've been sleeping and have been unaware of your baby's movements!
I can almost promise you that your baby is moving off and on throughout the entire night. Babies (even in utero) do not sleep through the night like you do. They only have sleep cycles for approximately 30 minutes at a time.
This means that even though you are unaware of movements while you sleep, they are likely happening anyway.
Should you do kick counts in the middle of the night? Well, not if you want to get any rest. But if you have a concern about your baby any time of day, then kick counts are appropriate. You should still be able to reach 10 kicks in two hours, even in the middle of the night. You may need to get up and walk around for a moment or drink some ice cold water before you start, but either way, your baby should move any time that you decide to do your kick counts.
Kick counts and Hiccups
If you notice “movements” that are rhythmic, repetitive jumps, your baby may be experiencing hiccups. These do not count towards your kick counts because they are involuntary movements. Hiccups don't have anything to do with the well-being of your baby.
If you believe that your baby is experiencing hiccups, wait to do your kick counts until after your baby's hiccups have resolved.
By the way, hiccups are NORMAL in your baby. I don't even want to get into the amount of phone calls we get on Labor and Delivery with women who are concerned for their baby's health because they read somewhere that hiccups are a problem for some reason or another. Nope, nope, and nope. Please, wherever people are finding information online that feeling baby's hiccups means that baby is in some kind of distress, please ignore it.
Again, when you feel your baby having hiccups, all you need to do is patiently wait until they are finished. Once they have gone away, you can do your kick counts as usual.
Baby getting bigger and “running out of room”
Alright guys, be careful with this one.
Baby's do not run out of room so much that they stop moving. They don't even run out of room so much that they decrease their activity at all. Instead, they may move differently toward the end of pregnancy because of their size. Term babies may not have enough room to kick as hard, do somersaults or have movements as big as they used to.
That being said, your baby should still have the same number of movements all the way up to your due date. Even if they are small, the movements should still be present.
The closer you are to your due date, the more important it is to keep track of your baby's movements. You may even want to increase the frequency of your fetal kick-count sessions by your ninth month to stay aware of the well-being of your baby as the end of your pregnancy approaches.
Myths about counting baby kicks
As important as kick-counts are, people love to talk about it. Be careful what information you believe when it comes to the health of your baby. Here are a couple of myths to avoid when counting baby kicks.
Babies don't move during labor
Babies totally move during labor. As a labor and delivery nurse, I hear, see, and feel babies move when their mothers are being continuously monitored in labor. Sometimes they move so much that they are hard to keep on the monitor!
During a contraction, your mind may be distracted by the pain or pressure and your body may be unable to feel movements through the tightness of your uterus, but you should still be able to feel baby move between contractions.
Even if you aren't feeling huge kicks or jabs, your baby should be moving some throughout your entire labor.
That being said, I don't necessarily advice that you do official “kick counts” while laboring. You have enough to think about. As long as you are noticing that your baby is still active, you're doing great.
- Related Read: Stop Worrying, We've Got It Covered: 6 Things Your Labor Nurse Wishes You Would Let Go Of
My baby is always active. i don't have to count my baby's kicks
Active babies aren't immune to distress.
Without doing kick counts, you may not be able to fully understand your baby's routine and normal movements and therefore you may not be as aware when something is off.
Tracking your baby's movements at the same time every day gives you more concrete evidence that something might be off.
Plus, if you do notice that your baby's movements have decreased or slowed down, having recorded kick counts to report to your provider will be helpful in evaluating you and your baby for something wrong.
I can use a home doppler instead of Counting baby kicks
Apart from home dopplers not being proven safe or effective for repeat usage, there are a number of reasons why using a home doppler is not the way to go.
Baby's heart rate may only change as a last sign of distress. Waiting for your hand-held doppler to show you low heart rate (fetal bradycardia) or no heart rate (fetal death) is obviously too late.
What's the goal when using a fetal doppler at home? To be sure that your baby is still alive? Well, that's great and all, but what are you going to do when you find out that they heart rate is 60 beats per minute? Or worse, there is none?
Using a home doppler is near-useless for someone who doesn't understand fetal heart rate patterns. Even if you are trained in advanced fetal monitoring, waiting until your baby's heart rate is noticeably affected on home doppler is a bad time to start acting.
On the other hand, daily monitoring of your baby's movements can give you a clue to the early signs of fetal distress. A significant or sudden change in your baby's movement pattern can indicate a potential problem that you can act on before a change in heart rate can be detected on home doppler.
I'm low risk, so I don't have to count baby kicks
Even if you're having a low-risk pregnancy, monitoring fetal movements is still beneficial for you and baby. Having a low-risk pregnancy does not exclude you from every risk that there is when growing a human in your body. Even the healthiest of moms and babies are not excluded from the risks of stillbirth.
If you are monitoring your baby's movements and notice a decline in fetal activity, the problem can be detected early and the likelihood that interventions can be taken to save your baby's life are high.
tools for counting kicks
It is important to have a notebook or a binder to record your baby's movements, the time it takes to reach appropriate kick counts, and the patterns you notice your baby developing. Try to keep up with your kick counts and have consistent documentation that is easily accessible in case you or your provider ever need to review it.
Fetal kick chart
In my option, the best way to track your baby's movements is to start a fetal kick chart.
Preferably, you will have a pregnancy journal where you can document and keep track of all of your kick-count sessions throughout your third trimester.
In my Ultimate Pregnancy Preparation Journal, I provide you with a fetal kick count tracker that you can keep in your binder and fill out each day as you complete your counts.
- Start with the date and time that you are counting your baby kicks
- Set a timer and mark on a piece of paper each time that your baby kicks
- When you reach 10 kicks, stop the timer
- Record the time you stopped
- Document how many minutes it took to get to 10 kicks during this session
- Document any “intervention” that you took. Did you need to stimulate baby in some way to get him going? Did you end up calling labor and delivery for advice? Are you going to re-test? These are things you'll want to write down.
- Document any thoughts your discoveries you're having in the “notes” section. If you are noticing a pattern for your baby, take note of it here.
Do you want to have a peek into The Ultimate Pregnancy Preparation Journal? Well, because I love you, I have provided a free downloadable version of the fetal kick count tracker so you can get a taste to see if you love it. Download it instantly below:
Remember that there is more where that came from! The Ultimate Pregnancy Preparation Journal is over 140 pages of goodness for you to use throughout your entire pregnancy.
kick count app
There are apps out there that can help you track your kick counts. Apps such as the Ovia Pregnancy App (which I used with my first pregnancy) have a few features that make counting baby kicks a little easier.
If you're using an app to track your baby's kicks, make sure it has these important features:
- You have the ability to “tap” every time you feel a movement
- You'll be notified when you reach ten movements
- The app records the amount of time it takes you to get to 10 movements
- You can save your kick counting sessions in the app to see your history
Other benefits to counting baby kicks
If the life-saving statistics aren't enough, counting baby kicks can also be a bonding experience for you and your baby. As you sit quietly and meditate on your baby, you are taking time to create a bond that you might not otherwise experience.
The time you take each day to do your kick counts can be a special time between you and your baby that no one else gets to experience.
During this time, you will be able to get to know your baby's movements and his/her unique personality.
Fetal kick counts
Lie back, bond with your baby, and get a little reassurance that your baby is right on track.
Take the time to do this simple task every day and have a better pregnancy for it. You're going to feel closer to your baby and more in tune with your pregnant body after-wards. Soon you'll realize that it's less of a chore, and more the best part of your day that coincidentally just might save your baby's life.
Let me know in the comment section what your routine is when counting baby kicks!
What To Read Next:
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- How To Care for Yourself and Your Heart After Miscarriage or Stillbirth
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