Giving guidelines on foetal movements is difficult because the range of normal is so vast. Here are some general rules for monitoring foetal movement, what to look out for and information on non-stress tests
It is generally unhelpful to compare your baby’s movements to someone else’s baby. It may also be misleading to compare your second or third baby’s movements to your first. They really are different little individuals, even at this very early stage.
Compounding the problem even further are differences in maternal perceptions of foetal movements. Some moms notice every little movement while others don’t feel even fairly vigorous movements.
The role of placenta in feeling your baby move
Movements to the front of the abdomen are usually more easily perceived than movements towards the back. If the placenta is positioned in front of the uterus (anterior placenta), it may act as a cushion reducing perception of movement.
Placental position may thus have an effect on what the mom feels, but maternal perception also plays a role. If, for example, mom is very busy, she may perceive fewer movements than when she is relaxing quietly.
Types of movements felt
The type of movements also varies at different stages of the pregnancy.
In very early pregnancy, flutters are felt. These develop into stronger “thumping” movements.
Around 28 weeks the movements become more “wriggly” and “squirmy.” This change in movement pattern is often interpreted as reduced movement and causes alarm. It is simply due to the fact that baby has less space.
What to look out for
What to look out for is a sustained reduction in movement. If baby becomes distressed in the womb, movements will reduce or stop some hours before a disaster occurs. A sustained reduction in foetal movement must therefore always be taken seriously and must always be checked out.
Asking for a non-stress test
If you are concerned, simply go to the labour ward, report the decreased foetal movement and ask for a non-stress test (NST). The midwife on duty will connect you to a foetal monitor and will monitor the foetal heart pattern over about a 20 minute period.
If the pattern is fine, you can safely be sent home. If there is any doubt, your obstetrician will be called and further tests may be necessary.
If there is an abnormal pattern from the non-stress test
If a frankly abnormal pattern is noted, the baby may have to be delivered prematurely as a life saving procedure. Never ignore a reduction in foetal movement and always have it checked out, it may save your baby’s life.
How to assess foetal movements
Numerous methods have been developed to try to objectively assess foetal movements.
One of the simpler and more practical methods is called the “count to 10 chart”. This is a very simple objective method of assessing foetal movements and is useful in high risk pregnancies or when uncertainty exists. It is only useful in the third trimester as prior to this perception of movements may be inconsistent.
As soon as you wake up in the morning start counting foetal movements. A movement is defined as a distinct change in position or series of kicks. If baby gives 6 little kicks in rapid succession, this is regarded as 1 movement. When the 10th movement of the day is felt, the time is noted and no further counting is necessary. If no movement is noted by lunchtime, or if you don’t count 10 movements in 10 hours, go to the labour ward for a NST.