As exciting as it is, pregnancy has the potential to be one of the scariest times of your life. Your body is changing big-time, and that brings with it the fear of the unknown. And sometimes, your baby does exactly the opposite of what you think he’ll do — like suddenly stop kicking — and you don’t know whether to wait it out or call your doctor on speed dial.
So what do you do if your baby stops kicking?
Given the fact that miscarriage is the most common type of pregnancy loss, and may occur in anywhere between 10 and 25 percent of clinically recognized pregnancies, this is a question that comes up fairly frequently.
Most moms start feeling regular fetal movements at around 28 weeks, Dr. Mabel Wong, medical director of women’s health at Kaiser Permanente Hawaii, explains. This is the big, important window as you are easing into the third trimester when it’s critical to start monitoring your baby’s movement each day. “A baby moves before this, but mom may not feel all the movements. So we ask patients to count fetal kicks at 28 weeks. Standards for kick counts vary, but ours is 10 movements within 2 hours, once a day,” she says.
For many parents who are just itching to meet their little guy or gal, this kicking is the fun part. As Maria J. Brooks, obstetrics nurse and Lamaze International president, sees it, fetal movement is one of the first ways a baby will start to express his personality. “For a mom-to-be, the sensation of her baby kicking can be reassuring, especially if your baby tends to move about in consistent, regular patterns,” she says. “Many moms and dads enjoy singing, playing music or talking to their baby to experience their little person's reaction.”
Like Wong, Brooks agrees that counting fetal movements, including but not limited to kicks, is important to establish a baseline activity for your baby in the final stage of pregnancy. This way, you’ll be able to tell if your baby is slowing down its activity, and in some cases, may need medical care. Parents should be on the lookout for decreased fetal movement and should always, always trust their gut first of all.
“While scientific research around fetal movement is still developing, mothers have a strong instinct about the health and wellness of their baby and should discuss any concerns about a noticeable increase or decrease in kicks,” Brooks says.
As concerning as it may be to notice a downturn in your baby’s regular movement, most of the time, less activity probably isn’t a cause for concern. Babies have 20-minute sleep cycles and may not be as active during a particular time frame.
“If you can't feel your baby move, first, take a deep breath. Most women just have been busy so they have not noticed movement, but it's been happening,” Dr. Sarah Yamaguchi, OB-GYN at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles says. “Then I recommend you eat something cold and sweet and lay down somewhere quiet and count movements. Cold things tend to wake up babies and make them move, and so do sweet things. The two combined, as well as paying attention to the movements, usually are all you need to do."
Eating and drinking to get your baby kicking again is fairly common advice you might receive from your doctor or midwife. Laurie MacLeod, a certified midwife at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells moms to take a break, eat some food and drink water if they don’t feel eight to 10 movements within an hour. MacLeod advises mothers to rest on their left sides without any distractions. If the kick count doesn’t increase within the next hour, contact your doctor.
“It is not something that should be ignored, and you should not wait until your next appointment,” she warns.
If decreased fetal movement is a cause for concern, a doctor will conduct a 20-minute non-stress test using a monitor strip to evaluate fetal heart rate and contractions.
Originally published February 2012. Updated September 2016.
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