Why Do Babies Kick In The Womb?

Do you feel your heart skip a beat, every time the little one inside your womb makes a movement? Feeling the baby's kicks is a special sensation for expectant mothers. We tell you all about it.

By Dr Rajeshwari Pawar

Why Do Babies Kick In The Womb?

One moment that every pregnant woman looks forward to, is the soft motion of her baby’s feet or body inside her belly. Once she feels the kick, the expectant mother waits for the sensation to happen again. It may not be a kick literally, but a gentle butterfly feeling in the lower abdomen or like a bubble hitting the abdominal wall. Why does it happen? Let us explore this. 

When does the foetus move?

The foetus starts to move as early as eight to nine weeks. In fact, when an early pregnancy sonography or an NT (Nuchal Translucency) scan is done, the parents get a pleasant surprise when the image of the foetus appears on the screen. However, the foetus is light during the initial stages and therefore, the mother does not feel the movement. By about 18–20 weeks, when the weight of the foetus is about 200 to 400 grams, the impact of the movement is significant enough to feel the foetal kick.

Is the kick voluntary or involuntary?

There are several questions that pop up in the expecting parent’s mind. Does the baby decide when to move? Are the movements voluntary? Heres the answer — the foetus is in a pool of amniotic fluid, inside the womb. Therefore, it is constantly moving; the movement is involuntary and on a reflex. The pattern of movements is however different in different stages of pregnancy. 

At around the 3rd month of pregnancy, the baby makes three types of movements: 

  • Rotatory: The baby keeps flipping round and round
  • Flexion/ Extension: It stretches its spine backwards and bends it forwards
  • Jumping: It moves up and down in the pool of amniotic fluid

As the foetal nervous system matures, the pattern of movements changes and becomes more decisive and impactful. By about 28 weeks or the 7th month of pregnancy, the mother may determine whether it is the limb movement (hands and legs of the baby) or the whole-body movement.

After about eight and a half months, the movements are fewer, as the baby has grown and has less space to move. The amniotic fluid pool around the baby also reduces. However, the mother will feel at least 5–6 kicks in one hour. But, if the mobility seems diminished, the expectant parents must report this to their doctor or go to the hospital.

What is the purpose of the kicks?

Foetal movements are essential – they ensure that the unborn child’s  muscles and joints are developing well inside the womb. Even though the actions of the foetus are involuntary, it moves in response to a loud sound. The movements increase after the mother has eaten a meal or had a glass of juice — this is because the foetus receives glucose whenever the mother consumes food. 

Expectant mothers will also vouch that foetal motion increases in the middle of the night — this is an indication that the mother’s body is low on sugar. Even though she may not be hungry, it is a cue for the mother to have a bite.        

Things every mother should know about foetal kicks:

  1. There is no need to count the movements for the whole day. About 4–5 kicks in an hour are adequate. You need to remember that there are periods in between when the little one goes to sleep, and you will not feel the movements during that time. However, this may not last beyond 20 minutes.  
  2. Sometimes, you may not feel the kicks for a few hours. There is no need to panic. Simply eat something, sit or lie down and count the movements for the next one hour. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that you should feel at least 10 movements in 2 hours, whether it is flutters or swishes or rolls.
  3. Report to your obstetrician, if you feel the movements are reduced or not as much as earlier. Your doctor will recommend either a Nonstress Test (NST) where you are made to click a button when you feel any activity inside the womb. Your baby’s heart rate is also recorded in conjunction to the movements. 
  4. Your doctor may recommend a sonography to record the growth of your baby, the adequacy of amniotic fluid and the foetal movements. The doctor may also do a Doppler Ultrasound to check the blood supply to the foetus.

So, pregnant folks, enjoy this phase of your life and the foetal kicks too. These are signs of a healthy baby and nothing to worry about. It is normal for every expecting mother and the experience should be enjoyed. 

The author is a Gynecologist at Motherhood hospital in Pune.

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