Fetal movements are the movements of the baby inside the womb of the mother, including the turning of the body, the kicking of the limbs and the extension of the trunk.
In general, a pregnant woman in her first pregnancy can start to feel fetal movements between 20 to 24 weeks, while a mother who had carried a baby before can start to feel fetal movements earlier, between 16 to 18 weeks.
Fetal movements will become more obvious and more frequent as the baby grows. However, the strength and frequency of movements vary between individuals. Every baby has its own pattern of movement. Generally, there will be fewer movements when the baby sleeps and more activities when the baby wakes up. Most mothers notice more fetal movements in the morning or before bedtime, simply because they are busy during the day and do not pay attention to fetal movements. Due to an increase in sugar level in the mother’s blood, babies are more active about an hour after the mother eats.
Fetal movements reflect the baby’s health. A change in the normal pattern or frequency of movements may mean the baby is under stress.
If a woman, who is over 28 weeks pregnant, feels that the frequency of fetal movements has decreased, she should perform a fetal movement counting or a kick count. She should lye on her side in a quiet environment, and feel the fetal movements carefully. Most of the times, there will be at least ten fetal movements within two hours.
If a mother feels that the number of fetal movements has suddenly reduced or there are less than ten movements within two hours, this may be a sign of fetal health problem. She should seek medical advice immediately. The doctor may arrange a Non-stress Test (NST) or other tests to check the well-being of the baby.