It's normal to worry whether baby's okay, especially when you don't know exactly what's going on in the womb. But once you're in your third trimester, there’s an easy, free, at-home technique you can use to monitor baby’s wellbeing: fetal kick counts.
Importance of Kick Counts
Counting and tracking baby's movement helps you get to know baby’s habits and patterns—and sense when something might be off. “Kick counts are important because you’re starting to monitor baby’s movement so you can notify your OB if you notice a change, because it could be a sign of problems in the pregnancy,” says Megan Cheney, MD, MPH, medical director of the Women’s Institute at Banner University Medical Center Phoenix. Letting your doctor know if baby is moving significantly more or less than usual will help her address any issues and take action if baby’s in distress. In other words, it’s something you can do all on your own to keep baby safe. Not only that—getting in tune with baby’s movements is a great way to start the bonding process.
How To Do Kick Counts
So when should you start? You’ll likely start to feel those first flutters of movement between 16 and 22 weeks, but they’ll be subtle and irregular. “Earlier than 28 weeks, baby doesn’t have a pattern yet. Any movement is good,” Cheney says. But once you hit your third trimester at 28 weeks, baby’s kicks become stronger and more predictable, and you can start in on your kick counts.
Once you’re ready to start doing kick counts, you’ll be timing how long it takes to feel 10 movements. What counts as a movement? All those kicks, swishes, rolls and jabs you feel. Keep a tally of how many you feel. “Be relaxed and pay attention,” Cheney says. “Get a paper and pen and mark it down.” Most women reach the 10 count within the first 30 minutes. If you aren't at 10 movements after two hours, or if there’s a noticeable or long-term change from the norm, give your doctor a call. “She may want to bring you in and put you on a monitor,” Cheney says. “Most of the time baby is doing fine, but better be safe than sorry.”
Tips for Kick Counting
Set aside time for kick counts every day, and try for roughly the same time each day when baby tends to be most active. That tends to be after meals, in the evening or if you’ve just had some sugar.
If the movements seem slow to start, try lying on your left side—this increases blood flow, which helps get baby moving. You might also coax baby into wiggling by drinking something sweet, like a glass of milk or juice. “Toward the end of pregnancy, many patients tell me they’re not feeling baby move as much, or that it doesn’t feel the same,” Cheney says. “That’s often because baby doesn’t have as much space to line up and take a big kick. Instead, babies do more shoulder rolls—and that still counts.”