Kick counts: when to start and how to count your baby’s kicks

What are kick counts?

Step counts are a way to keep track of your baby’s movements. They indicate how often you feel your baby move – and they can give you some insight into how your baby is doing.

A change in your baby’s movement pattern – and especially a decrease in stairs during pregnancy – could mean your baby is stressed and needs help. Pregnant women often notice a decrease in fetal movement before stillbirth.

But while awareness of your baby’s movements is important, experts aren’t sure if specific ways to track them, such as the number of stairs, are helpful in reducing the risks of problems.

An analysis of more than 450,000 pregnancies concluded that giving pregnant women specific directions to count their baby’s movements did not improve pregnancy outcomes (compared to not giving directions). There were no differences in stillbirth, neonatal death, low birth weight, low Apgar scores, or NICU admission. There were small increases in preterm labor, labor induction, and cesarean delivery in the women who counted fetal movement.

Some providers routinely recommend kick counts and others do not. Some recommend them if there is a suspicion of a problem, or if a mother and her baby are at risk for a complication such as preeclampsia.

However, it’s always comforting to feel your baby kick, and many moms-to-be find it comforting to track their baby’s movements. As long as tracking your baby’s movements doesn’t cause you anxiety (because you’re worried that your baby isn’t moving enough, for example), you’re fine. And – if it helps you notice that your baby is less active than usual – counting can be helpful.

When kick counts start

While you’ll probably feel your baby’s movements sooner (as early as 16 to 19 weeks if this isn’t your first pregnancy), counting your baby’s movements usually isn’t practical until around the end of your second trimester or the start of pregnancy. your third trimester. trimester. If your provider suggests starting counting kicks, it will likely be in your third trimester.

That’s because those first kicks might just feel like fuzzy, fluttery movements—observable one day, but maybe not the next. As the weeks go by, your baby’s kicks and turns and other movements will become stronger and easier to spot. You may feel the kicks in the center or side of your abdomen, under your ribs, or low in your pelvis.

Once you notice regular movement, some providers recommend that women count stairs once a day, to check in on how your baby is doing and to be aware of any change in movements.

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How to do kick counts

It often helps to kick at about the same time each day when your baby’s movements are likely to be the same. Your goal is to learn what is normal for your baby so you can be aware if there is a change.

Pick a time when your baby is usually active. Peak activity is often late at night. And while there’s no scientific evidence to prove it’s true, many mothers report that their babies move more after they’ve eaten (especially something sweet, which would raise your glucose levels) or after drinking a cold drink.

Different providers may provide different directions for counting stairs – there is no one medically approved method. Here are three main approaches:

Count 10 steps. Sit or lie quietly on your left side and place your hands on your stomach. Time how long it takes to feel 10 different movements (kicks but also elbow or knee thrusts and movements of the whole body). If you don’t feel 10 movements of your baby within 2 hours, call your provider or go to the hospital. There may be nothing to worry about, but your provider may want to run some tests to make sure. (You don’t necessarily have to sit or lie down for 2 hours, but don’t get distracted until you’ve tracked 10 movements.)

Regular movement. Another method is to just know when your baby last moved and notify your provider if your baby doesn’t move for a few hours. (Babies rest for long periods, but usually for no more than 90 minutes at a time.) Again, keep in mind that it’s quite possible to become distracted and not notice your baby’s movements for extended periods of time (while you engaged in other activities, for example). Your provider may recommend that you perform kick counts and report back, or they may send you to the hospital to be checked.

Mind fetality. This method involves paying attention to your baby’s movements (without counting) for 15 minutes each day, noticing how they are. Are they strong, frequent, anything else? During this time, sit or lie quietly so that you can better observe the movements. The idea of ​​this method is to help you become familiar with your baby’s individual movement patterns so that you can alert your healthcare provider if there are any noticeable changes.

What to do if your baby is not moving as much as usual?

Whichever counting method you use, if you feel that your baby has been quiet or less active for a longer period of time than usual, call your provider or go to the hospital. If you cannot contact your doctor or midwife, do not wait and go to the hospital.

Depending on your circumstances, your healthcare provider may direct you to carefully monitor your baby’s movements for a period of time and then follow up, or they may ask you to come in for tests to make sure everything is okay.

For example, if you think your baby is moving less than before and your healthcare provider is concerned, they may recommend a non-stress test, amniotic fluid ultrasound, or biophysical profile. (If you have a high-risk pregnancy, you may already be having some of these tests.)

Myths and facts about the number of stairs

There are some common confusions about the number of steps and what they mean, as well as misconceptions about fetal movements in general.

Myth: Babies move less towards the end of pregnancy because they run out of space.

Fact: Babies don’t move less towards the end of pregnancy. Some studies even report an increase in exercise as pregnancy progresses. A baby’s movements may be slower and feel different – ​​rolls rather than clear kicks or dramatic twists, for example. But babies should be just as active. Your baby’s movements may feel even harder and stronger than ever in the last few weeks. Unless you’ve had an epidural, which might make you less aware of it, you’ll feel your baby’s movements even during labour, right up to the moment they’re born.

Myth: You only need to track your baby’s movements if you have a high-risk pregnancy.

Fact: Paying attention to your baby’s movements is important during any pregnancy. Report any decrease in movement to your provider or go to the hospital.

Myth: You can use a home Doppler device to monitor your baby’s well-being.

Fact: Hand-held Dopplers are not a reliable way to monitor your baby. It takes training and practice to correctly identify a baby’s heartbeat. Even if you think you’re detecting a heartbeat, it doesn’t mean everything is okay. Being aware of your baby’s movements and attending all your prenatal appointments are better ways to keep an eye on your baby.

Myth: Unusually fast fetal movements are a good sign.

Fact: While a lack of exercise is more commonly used to alert healthcare providers to a potential problem, increased exercise can also be a cause for concern. If your baby’s movements seem different — whether they’re less or suddenly faster — talk to your provider.

Learn more:

Kick counts: when to start and how to count your baby’s kicks

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