The following advice is for every pregnancy, whether you are carrying 1 or multiple babies.
Know the facts about baby movements
Feeling your baby move is a sign that they are well. If you notice that your baby’s movements have slowed down, changed or stopped, it may be a sign that your baby is not well.
Contact your maternity unit immediately if you notice any changes to your baby’s movements. This could save your baby’s life. There are staff on the maternity unit 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- It is not true that babies move less towards the end of pregnancy. You should continue to feel your baby move right up to the time you go into labour. Your baby should move during labour too.
- You should continue to feel your baby move right up to the time you go into labour and during labour.
DO NOT WAIT until the next day to seek advice if you are worried about your baby’s movements.
Baby movements and stillbirth
Reduced baby movements is not a cause of stillbirth but it is one of the signs that a baby may not be getting enough food or oxygen. In around half of stillbirths, the mother noticed reduced baby movements.
This can sound scary. But it does not mean that a change in movements will lead to a baby’s death. It also does not mean that if a baby is stillborn, it is the parent’s fault for not noticing any changes.
When should I feel my baby move?
Most people are first aware of their baby moving when they are 18-20 weeks pregnant.
If this is your first pregnancy, you may not feel until you are more than 20 weeks pregnant. If you’ve been pregnant before, you may feel movements as early as 16 weeks.
How often should my baby move?
There is no set number of normal movements you should be feeling – every baby is different. The important thing is to get to know your baby's usual movements from day to day.
From 18-24 weeks on you should feel the baby move more and more. After 32 weeks, the movements will stay roughly the same. You should continue to feel your baby move right up to the time you go into labour. Your baby should move during labour too.
Why are my baby’s movements important?
Feeling your baby move is a sign they are well.
If your baby moves less or if you notice a change this can sometimes be an important warning sign that a baby is unwell. If you get the right treatment and care as soon as you can this could save your baby’s life.
Is there anything that can affect being able to feel my baby move?
You may be less likely to be aware of your baby’s movements when you are active or busy.
If your placenta is at the front of your uterus (womb), it may not be easy for you to feel your baby’s movements. This is called an anterior placenta.
If your baby’s back is lying at the front of your uterus, you may feel fewer movements than if their back is lying alongside your own back. The placenta cushions the kicks.
But you should still feel regular movement, it will just be different to those with the placenta in the more usual place. Do not assume an anterior placenta is why you can’t feel your baby’s movements. Contact your midwife or maternity unit immediately if you think your baby’s movements have slowed down, stopped or changed. It’s always best to get checked.
If your baby lying head down or bottom first (known as breech) will not affect how you feel movements.
Can I make my baby move?
No, you should not try to make your baby move. If you think your baby’s movements have slowed down, stopped or changed contact your midwife or maternity unit immediately.
Can I use a home doppler to check on my baby?
Do not use any hand-held monitors, dopplers or phone apps to check your baby’s heartbeat. This is not a reliable way to check your baby’s health. Even if you hear a heartbeat, this does not mean your baby is well.
A heartbeat alone is not a sign of good health. Any care or treatment that could save a baby needs to be done when the baby has a heartbeat.
Find out more about why using home devices are not a safe way of checking your baby’s health.
You need to be monitored by a cardiotocography machine or a midwife.
What happens if my baby's movements have slowed down?
Less than 24 weeks pregnant
Contact your midwife or local maternity unit if you have not felt your baby move by 24 weeks. They will check your baby’s heartbeat. You may have an ultrasound scan and you may be referred to a specialist fetal medicine centre to check your baby's health.
Between 24 and 26 weeks pregnant
You should contact local maternity unit immediately. Do not wait until the next day or next appointment.
Your healthcare professional will check your baby’s heartbeat.
You will have a full antenatal check-up that includes:
- checking the size of your uterus
- measuring your blood pressure
- testing your urine for protein.
If your uterus measures smaller or larger than expected, you may have an ultrasound scan to check on your baby’s growth and development.
Over 26 weeks
You should contact your local maternity unit immediately. Do not wait until the next day or next appointment.
You will be asked about your baby's movements.
You will have an antenatal check-up including checking your baby's heartbeat and measuring the size of your bump.
Your baby's heart rate will be monitored using a CTG, usually for at least 20 minutes. You should be able to see your baby’s heart rate increase as he or she moves
An ultrasound scan may be arranged if:
- your bump is smaller or larger than expected
- your pregnancy has risk factors linked to stillbirth
- your baby’s heart rate is normal but you still feel that their movements are slower or less than usual
- you have had reduced fetal movements already in your pregnancy.
You should not be discharged until you are happy with baby's movements again. If helpful, you can read some tips here for speaking up in pregnancy.
If the movements have slowed down does it mean my baby is not well?
Fewer movements could mean that your baby is unwell, but usually these checks reveal that everything is OK. Most women and birthing people who have experienced one episode of fewer movements go on to have a straightforward pregnancy and healthy baby. However it is very important that you are checked to make sure everything is OK.
What if my baby’s movements are reduced again?
If, after your check up, you are still not happy with your baby’s movement, contact either your midwife or maternity unit straight away again, even if everything was OK last time.
Never hesitate to contact your midwife or the maternity unit for advice, no matter how many times this happens.
We are here if you need to talk to someone about baby loss. You can talk to our Tommy’s midwives for free on 0800 0147 800. We are open 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Or you can email them on [email protected].