When Do Babies Start To Kick and How Much Should They?
It’s always exciting when you feel your baby’s first kick, twist, wriggle, punch, or hiccup. That first movement is filled with so many feelings – it’s a thrill, but can sometimes cause confusion when you can’t figure out if it was a kick or gas. I regularly get questions about babies kicking: What is a baby kick supposed to feel like? Is the baby kicking enough? When should I be worried? Is my baby kicking too much?
The first time I felt my baby move? I was 22 weeks pregnant on a road trip to Vermont to see one of my best friends and we stopped for some Buffalo chicken wings… talk about a dance party. It took a little longer to feel because I had an anterior placenta (more about that below).
As I always say, the best way to calm that anxiety and feel confident is through education. Knowing where you are in your pregnancy and how baby is developing can be a tremendous help. If you have yet to take a prenatal class, check out my Empowered Birth prenatal course. We go through all this and so much more.
Today, I want to take some time and answer the most common questions about kicking.
Every baby is different when it comes to fetal movement and there’s a wide range of what’s normal. I try to cover as much range as I can but just remember, pregnancy is not a one-size-fits-all. So if you have more questions you can reach out to me or to your health practitioner.
Baby starts moving and wiggling before you can actually feel it. In fact, your health practitioner can identify fetal movements, like stretches or arm wiggles, around eight weeks. The first trimester is a time of growth and development and they are kicking and moving constantly, they are just too small for you to feel anything yet.
When do I start to feel my baby kicking or moving?
Most women feel the first movement between weeks 14 and 26, but generally closer to the average of week 18 to week 22. These first movements are called quickening. The position of your placenta will play a role in how early or late you feel the first movements. If it’s facing the front, also called an anterior placenta, it can muffle the movements and make the wait for those kicks a bit longer, but there is generally no cause for concern or complications from this.
What will my baby’s kicks feel like?
Early movement is hard to identify and hard to describe. I know that’s not helpful, but it’s true. It might feel like butterflies in your stomach or maybe like a little fish swimming inside. Some even describe it as feeling waves or bubbles. Babies are unique so rhythms and patterns of their activity will vary. Try not to compare your kicks with others as they likely won’t feel the same.
Kicks can also feel like a twitch, nudge, or even the growling of hunger pangs. Or maybe it’ll feel like a bubble bursting or that upside-down, inside-out feeling you get on a roller coaster. The feelings will also change over time. Eventually, you’ll be able to feel a hiccup, a kick, a punch, and a shift.
But if this is your second baby, you will know the feeling to watch for and will likely pick up on those little movements earlier than the first time around.
How will kicking change month to month?
Month 4: very few new parents have reported feeling movement around this time. It’s possible but rare. Most won’t be aware of or recognize the flits and twitches, which can feel a lot like gas or muscle spasms
Month 5: This is when the fun usually starts. Most new parents report feeling their first movements around this time. Once you feel them, they’ll get stronger and more distinct over time. Baby still has plenty of room to move around in the womb. If you haven’t felt movement by mid-month, your health provider might order an ultrasound to check on baby’s development. No need to worry, every baby and body is different!
Month 6: baby will start picking up the pace as leg movements are more coordinated. You may start noticing patterns, but it’s just as likely for the baby kicks to be random.
Month 7: baby is much larger now so there is less room in the womb. You can expect to feel kicks, punches, and even hiccups! Have you sensed occasional little flutters of faint but rhythmic tics? Lots of people worry if they feel too many hiccoughs, but a good rule to go by is if a session lasts less than 15 minutes, occurs less than three times a day, or are not happening every day – if you are having them more often than that, speak to your doctor. But there is very little reason to worry about the hiccoughs.
Month 8: there is a little less room for your baby to move around but you will still feel wiggles, kicks, and punches. It might be more common to start feeling them rollover in a swooping motion. This can also be a really fun time to start playing with them by poking your belly and having them kick back!
Month 9: baby is almost full weight and length, meaning there is not much space in there for them to stretch. You may be feeling baby’s foot lodging into your ribs as they turn head-down in preparation for birth. It can be uncomfortable, but a little nudge or shift in position could help bring some relief. Monitoring baby’s kicks are important (see below) and if you experience any changes or feel something is off, reach out to your health practitioner.
When will other people be able to feel the baby kicking?
When or even if others will be able to feel baby kick depends on the position of your placenta. In the case of an anterior placenta, for example, it‘ll be harder for others to feel baby’s movements. Your labour support person, partner, parents, siblings and friends will usually be able to feel baby’s kicks when you’re around 24 to 28 weeks pregnant.
Why is my baby moving?
A study in The Journal of the Royal Society Interface found that the force of fetal kicks increases between 20 and 30 weeks gestation, and then declines by 35 weeks. This suggests that a baby’s kicks are strongest and most frequent during those middle stages of fetal development, just when bones and joints are beginning to take shape. So kicks and movement is just an indication that your baby is growing!
Another study from Scientific Reports showed that kicking can help the fetus “map” their body and explore their surroundings. What does that mean? Here is an example: when baby moves their right hand, it produces brainwaves immediately afterward in the part of the left brain that processes touch for the right hand. Every little movement baby is making is helping develop their motor skills and reflexes to survive after their born.
Regardless of what studies you read, all evidence points to the fact that baby kicks are an essential part of fetal development. So if you’re feeling a little – or a lot – of discomfort from them, rest assured it’s all part of the process.
Why is baby kicking so much at night?
During the day, you are focused on so many different things, and you are distracted by…life. Also, your movement may be rocking baby to sleep. So throughout the day, you might not notice the kicks as much. You will more likely feel baby kicking and moving around when:
- You’ve relaxed for the night – when you’re settled and more present with your body, you’re more likely to feel what baby is up to.
- When you have a snack or drink juice – the surge of blood sugar may give baby a rush of energy
- When you’re nervous – adrenaline and sugar may have the same effect on baby
What is kick counting? When should I start?
Around week 28, your health practitioner may ask you to “count kicks” to make sure everything is progressing as expected. You’ll be asked to do this for the rest of your pregnancy. Here is how you can approach kick counting:
Spend a little bit of time each day feeling your baby move. Movement can be kicks, stretches, rolls, turns, punches…basically movement of any kind. Check the clock before you start and then begin counting. You’re looking for 10 movements of any kind in an hour or less, although sometimes babies take periods of rest so this can take up to 2 hours. If you haven’t felt any kicks after an hour, drink something cold or have a snack. See if that gives baby a bit of energy!
Need help tracking? Download my FREE kick count tracker.
Do not count for more than 2 hours. If you have not felt 10 movements by then, call the birth unit at your hospital and proceed there immediately for a check-up.
As I mentioned before, every baby is different. So new research now suggests that the 10 kicks count isn’t a hard and fast rule. Yes, it’s a good baseline but some babies are different than others. Research now suggests that you stay aware of your body. Take time everyday to understand babies patterns and kicks. Track your kick counts. If you feel something is off, trust your instincts and call the birth unit at your hospital and proceed there immediately.
**Special Note About Dopplers** Without training using these, dopplers are actually problematic. There have been too many circumstances where people have relied on hearing baby’s heartbeat and not going to the hospital after feeling less kicking. If you are not feeling baby move, there could be something serious going on. Don’t rely on your handheld home doppler and Do go get checked by your care provider.
If you are ever questioning:
- Stop, lay down and put your hands on your belly to feel for the movements
- If you don’t feel 10 movements in a 2hour period call your health care provider
You will never be faulted for being too careful!
Here are the numbers for hospitals around New Brunswick in case you ever need them:
Upper River Valley