Reduced Fetal Movement: What You Need to Know

Reduced Fetal Movement

One of the high points of any pregnancy is when you first feel your baby move. Women describe this movement as a kick, flutter, roll, or swish. No matter how you describe it, the meaning is clear; there is a new life inside you. Read here about normal fetal movement.

Over time, you will become aware of the unique patterns of movement for your baby. But what does it mean if movement slows down or stops? This problem is called reduced fetal movement. In most cases, it is not serious, but you should always let your pregnancy health care provider know about it.

Knowing Your Baby’s Movement

If this is your first pregnancy, you may feel first movement somewhere between 18 and 25 weeks into your pregnancy. Women who have had prior pregnancies may feel movement as early as 16 weeks. Movement continues to increase up through 32 weeks and then settles into a pattern that will continue right through labor.

Here are some movement patterns experienced by many pregnant women:

  • Babies may go still for periods of 20 to 40 minutes. This happens when your baby is sleeping.
  • Active movement is most common in the afternoon and late evening. Late evening through early morning is active because your sugar level drops at that time and your baby may be hungry for some sugar.
  • Triggers for movement may include a meal, a cold drink, or physical activity.
  • As your pregnancy moves into the third trimester, you may become so used to your baby’s movements that you are not aware of them when you are busy.

How and When to Report Reduced Movement

If you have a high-risk pregnancy, your pregnancy provider may ask you to do movement checks – called kick counts – to keep track of fetal movement. You may want to do kick counts in any case. You should always do a movement check any time you sense that movement has decreased or has not been felt for longer than normal:

  • Lie down on your left side in a quiet place. See how long it takes to count 10 movements. Write down the time.
  • If it takes longer than 2 hours to count 10 movements, repeat your count for another 2 hours.
  • If you don’t get 10 movements on your recheck, don’t wait until the next day. Contact your pregnancy care provider and report reduced movement.
  • If you have been checking for several days and there is a definite pattern of reduced movement – taking longer and longer to get to 10 – let your pregnancy care provider know that the pattern has changed.

What It May Mean and What to Expect

In most cases, decreased fetal movement is a temporary change in movement and not a serious problem. There is no easy way to say it, but in some cases, decreased fetal movement is a warning of a baby in the womb being in danger. Studies show that reduced fetal movement may occur several days before loss of a pregnancy.

There are also other less drastic causes and they include:

  • Heavy weight gain (obesity)
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Use of alcohol
  • Use of sedative drugs
  • Position of the placenta in front of the womb instead of on top
  • A baby lying with its back against the mothers back

No matter the reason, when you suspect decreased movement it is always important to let your pregnancy care provider know. You will probably need to come in for an evaluation. This may include:

  • Checking your baby’s heartbeat
  • Doing and ultrasound imaging study
  • A test to measure your baby’s movement along with heartbeat (computerized cardiotocography)

Depending on the results of the testing and where you are in your pregnancy, you may be reassured or you may be asked to continue movement checks at home. Your pregnancy may be watched more carefully. In some cases, if a cause of fetal distress is identified, you may have a change in the way your pregnancy is managed. If testing shows that your baby is in distress and your pregnancy is far enough along, your pregnancy care provider may advise an early delivery.

Your baby’s movements in your womb are a connection between you and your baby that only you can feel. Over time, you will be able to sense your baby’s pattern. A change in that pattern or an absence of movement may be an early warning. Always let your pregnancy care provider know, even if other episodes in the past have been false alarms.

Christopher Iliades
Dr. Chris Iliades is a medical doctor with 20 years of experience in clinical medicine and clinical research. Chris has been a full time medical writer and journalist since 2004. His byline appears in over 1,000 articles online including EverydayHealth, The Clinical Advisor, and Healthgrades. He has also written for print media including Cruising World Magazine, MD News, and The Johns Hopkins Children's Center Magazine. Chris lives with his wife and close to his three children and four grandchildren in the Boston area.

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