Your baby’s first movements occur early in the first trimester, well before you are able to feel them. The very first movements are more like twitches that the baby isn’t in control of, but as the arms, legs, fingers, and toes develop, your baby can begin to move the buds, and eventually the limbs and digits.
We know that babies move a lot in the womb throughout pregnancy, but in the early months, it is nearly impossible for you to feel these movements. The first time you feel your baby move is known as quickening.
First-time mothers will typically experience quickening between 18 and 22 weeks into their pregnancy. However, there are factors that can alter how or when you experience that feeling.
One thing that can delay quickening is a condition known as an anterior placenta, which means your placenta has implanted in the front portion of your uterus. This is not a problem or a cause for concern. However, because the placenta doesn’t have nerves, it does block some of your ability to feel your baby move. This means that your baby has to be much bigger and have bigger movements for you to be able to feel them. If you have not yet felt your baby’s movements after a certain point, your doctor or midwife may suggest an ultrasound to see where your placenta is located.
If you are having a second baby, or more, you may notice that you feel your baby move earlier in pregnancy. This is typically because you are better able to recognize early movements and less likely to write them off as something else, like gas. Sometimes, though, you may notice a delay for all of the same reasons that a first-time mother might.
Your body composition will also determine how quickly you feel your baby move. If you are extremely thin, you may feel your baby sooner. If you have extra weight, it may take longer for you to feel your baby move.
What does it feel like when you first feel your baby move?
Your baby’s movements are felt in a variety of ways. Those early weeks of feeling the baby move often leave women in doubt, wondering if they felt something or if it was just their imaginations. You may only feel the baby every few days, even once you are able to identify what its movements feel like.
As your pregnancy progresses and your baby grows, you will feel your baby more frequently and consistently. You may also notice a change in how the movements feel. While most of the first movements may feel like flutters, bubbles, and gas, as the baby gets bigger, you may feel movements that are more like bumps, nudges, and turns.
When will other people be able to feel the baby move?
It makes sense that feeling a baby move is always going to be easier for the person carrying the baby than it is for someone who is trying to feel it from the outside. Your baby must be even bigger for your partner, family, or friends to feel its movements when touching your abdomen. Others usually will be able to feel the baby moving around the beginning of the third trimester (around 27 or 28 weeks).
Even when you can feel the baby moving, it may stop moving when people place their hands on your abdomen. You may like to think of this as a baby reacting to the touch and calming down. You may spend a few weeks playing a game of trying to catch the baby moving for your partner or others to feel it.
Eventually, the baby will be large enough that not only will you feel the baby move from the inside and the outside, but you may be able to see larger movements from the outside, too — even through your clothing and from several feet away. Not every baby reaches this level of movement, but it can happen, and you shouldn’t be alarmed if it does.
When should you worry about the baby’s movements?
As you near the end of your pregnancy, the baby will begin to get cramped in the uterus. As the amount of space they have decreases, the quality of the movements change. You will not feel huge movements or the flips and turns you felt around 25 weeks — these will give way to shoves and nudges as your baby settles into position to prepare for birth. However, you will still feel movement in the same patterns of activity that you have for the last few weeks and months.
If you notice that your baby’s movements have decreased in frequency, you should immediately report this to your doctor or midwife. This may be a sign that something is not right and that your baby needs more evaluation. The first thing you will typically be asked to do is to drink something with sugar, and preferably with bubbles, to encourage your baby to wake up. You will lie down, typically on your left side, and pay attention to the baby and feel for movements. Some mothers simply don’t notice these smaller movements when they are up and active. You can try this while waiting to hear back from your health care provider.
If you have other pregnancy warning signs, like bleeding, you should consider going to the emergency room and call your practitioner on the way.
Feeling your baby move in pregnancy is certainly something that can be very exciting for expecting mothers and their loved ones. Try not to let worry creep in, and remember to enjoy feeling of bumps and twists as you progress through the end of your pregnancy.
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Robin Elise Weiss, Ph.D., LCCE, CLC, AdvCD(DONA) is a childbirth educator, doula, founder of Childbirth.org, and the award-winning pregnancy and parenting author of “The Complete Illustrated Guide to Pregnancy” and more than 10 other books. Between her nine children, teaching childbirth classes, and attending births for more than two decades, she has built up an impressive and practical knowledge base. You can follow Robin on Twitter @RobinPregnancy, Instagram, and Facebook.