Counting sheep, sure. Counting heads to double check everyone is accounted for? Done that. Counting pennies when spending has gone off the rails? Oh, yes. And if you are expecting, there’s a whole new type of counting that’ll likely come into play soon: counting kicks. Wondering what counting baby kicks is for—and if you should track your baby’s movements? Here, everything you need to know about counting kicks in pregnancy.

Kick Counting in Pregnancy

Kick counting (aka fetal movement counting) is a way to monitor the movements of your unborn baby. In short, you count the number of kicks that you feel during a specified time period. If you notice any notable change in your baby’s typical kick schedule, this could indicate your baby is stressed.

What do baby kicks feel like?

Baby kicks don’t always feel like kicks…at first. Instead, baby movements often feel like swirling, fluttering, tiny muscle spasms, or light rolls or tumbles. But as you inch closer and closer to your due date, those movements may feel jerky and, yes, like honest-to-goodness kicks. (They may even hurt a bit!)

Is kick counting necessary?

It depends! Some healthcare providers will ask you to count kicks as a way to monitor your little one’s movement—and if that’s the case, it’s a good idea to follow your doctor’s orders. However, a recent meta-analysis found that kick counting was not associated with a clear improvement in pregnancy outcomes. So, if your doctor hasn’t instructed you to count kicks, it’s likely not necessary. Still, kick counting is a low-cost and low-tech parent-to-be tool that has the potential to prevent worsening issues. Plus, research shows that four weeks of counting kicks improves maternal–fetal bonding.

When to Start Kick Counting

You may start feeling baby kicks as early as 18 weeks of pregnancy, but it’s more likely that your little one’s tiny thumps won’t make themselves known until between 22 to 26 weeks. By week 30 to 32, your baby’s kicks will be way more noticeable. And by the time your nugget is fully baked at 40 weeks, their movements may feel weaker than before. That’s because there’s far less room to wiggle, roll, and kick! With that, fetal movements may still be quite irregular in your second trimester. So, unless your healthcare provider advises otherwise, there’s often no real reason to count kicks until you reach your third trimester.

How to Do a Kick Count 

There are a few different ways to approach kick counting, so it’s best to let your healthcare provider guide you. But here are some general tips for fetal movement counting:

  • Commit to kick counting at the same time each day. Do it when your baby tends to be the active, like after your biggest meal of the day.

  • Lie on your side or relax in a comfy chair.

  • Record the time and then the number of times you feel your baby kick, twist, or turn in one hour. (Hiccups don’t count!)

  • After several days, you’ll likely notice that your baby moves about the same number of times each hour. That number is now considered your baseline number. If kicks start to drop below that number, give your provider a ring.

Alternatively, your doctor or midwife may advise you to measure the amount of time it takes for your baby to kick 10 times. Either way, if your provider gives you a kick count card, fill it out daily and bring it to your prenatal visits. Don’t have one? You can use this baby kick count card or you can track your baby’s movements with the help of an app, like Baby Kicks Monitor or BabyKicks.

Decreased Fetal Movement

If you don’t feel your baby wiggle, jiggle, or kick within one hour, don’t panic! Instead…

  • Eat or drink something sugary, like fruit or juice.

  • Turn onto your left side, which will increase blood flow to your baby.

  • Take a 5-minute stroll.

  • Tap or rub your belly.

  • Have someone talk into your belly.

Keep in mind that within about a month of your baby’s impending arrival, their movements often become less dramatic. But that doesn’t mean they disappear! You should still be able to feel six or more kicks within an hour. If you don’t, talk to your doctor or midwife. At the same time, know that babies continue to move through labor.

When to Call the Doctor About Decreased Fetal Movement

While it’s true that short periods without feeling your baby kick can be fine, do not hesitate to get your healthcare provider on the phone if you’re worried or experiencing any of the following: 

Any decrease in perceived fetal movement should be followed up with a 20- to 40-minute nonstress test (NST). This non-invasive test is designed to evaluate your baby’s movement and heart rate accelerations. Your provider will squirt some gel on your belly before securing a fetal heart rate monitoring belt (transducer) around your bump. Then your baby’s heart rate is recorded. You’ll be instructed to push a button each time you feel your baby move.

  

More Need-to-Know Pregnancy Info:


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REFERENCES

  • Cleveland Clinic: Kick Counts
  • National Health Service: Your baby’s movements
  • Fetal Movement Counting and Perinatal Mortality:A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Obstetrics & Gynecology. February 2020
  • Stat Pearls, National Library of Medicine: Fetal Movement
  • Effect of the fetal movement count on maternal–fetal attachment. Japan Journal of Nursing Science. May 2018
  • Kaiser Permanente: Counting kicks
  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: The Top 6 Pregnancy Questions I Hear From First-Time Moms
  • Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: Fetal Movement Counting
  • Cleveland Clinic: Quickening in Pregnancy
  • Penn Medicine, Lancaster General Health: How to Count Kicks During Your Pregnancy
  • Stanford Medicine, Children’s Health: Fetal Movement Counting
  • Stanford Medicine, Children’s Health: Nonstress Testing

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.