How to perform fetal kick counts

Pregnancy is filled with ups, downs and many unknowns. It’s normal to wonder whether baby’s okay, especially when you don’t know exactly what’s going on in the womb. But once you enter your third trimester, there’s an easy, free, at-home technique you can use to monitor baby’s wellbeing: fetal kick counts. We tapped experts to break down everything you need to know about baby kick counts, including why they’re important, when and how to do them and when to call your doctor about decreased movement.

What Are Kick Counts?

Fetal kick counts are an at-home method you can use in late pregnancy to track baby’s movement and help assess their health in utero, says Kristin Atkins, MD, FACOG, an assistant professor in the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at Howard University College of Medicine. Kick counts measure how long it takes baby to move 10 times—ideally, you’ll sense 10 movements within two hours or less. Almost any fetal movement can be used for baby kick counts, including kicks, flutters, swishes, jabs or rolls. (Note, though, that hiccups don’t count, since they’re involuntary.)

Why Are Kick Counts Important?

Fetal kick counts are a way to track baby’s wellbeing before birth: They can help identify potential problems and help prevent stillbirth. In familiarizing yourself with baby’s habits and patterns, you’ll be able to better sense when something might be off, explains Megan Cheney, MD, MPH, medical director of the Women’s Institute at Banner University Medical Center Phoenix. Letting your doctor know if baby is moving significantly more or less than usual will help them address any issues and take action if baby is in distress. In other words, kick counts are something you can do all on your own to help keep baby safe. Not only that, but getting in tune with baby’s movements is also a great way to start the bonding process.

When to Start Counting Kicks

Wondering when to start counting kicks? Doctors generally recommend starting once you enter your third trimester, at 28 weeks. Why not sooner? You’ll likely start to feel those first flutters of movement between 16 and 22 weeks, but they’ll be subtle and irregular. “Earlier than 28 weeks, baby doesn’t have a pattern yet. Any movement is good,” Cheney says. But you can start regularly counting kicks at 28 weeks—by then, baby’s kicks will become stronger and more predictable.

How to Do Kick Counts

To do a baby kick count test, time how long it takes to count 10 fetal movements. “Any movement counts, and the number of movements is more important than the strength of the movement,” Atkins says. Many women reach the 10-count within the first 30 minutes, but it could take up to an hour or two, and that’s okay.

Because it takes some concentration, start your kick counts when you’re feeling relaxed and focused, Cheney says. You can technically do baby kick counts in any position, but it’s best to lie down on your left side with your hands on your bump—this increases blood flow, which helps get baby moving.

Wondering how often you need to do kick counts? At least once a day, says Atkins, or anytime you or your healthcare provider are concerned about baby. Try for roughly the same time each day, and pay attention to when baby tends to be most active (more on this below.) When you’re doing baby kick counts, keep a physical tally and write down the time of the first and tenth movement. The key here is to understand your child’s individual patterns and then look for “significant deviations,” according to the American Pregnancy Association. There can be a range of time differences in kick counts, so look for big differences over the course of three to four days.

If you still haven’t counted 10 movements after two hours, or if there’s a noticeable or long-term change from the norm, give your doctor a call. “They may want to bring you in and put you on a monitor,” Cheney adds. “Most of the time baby is doing fine, but better be safe than sorry.”

It’s important to note that some pregnancy conditions that affect baby’s position, the placenta’s location (like anterior placenta) or your amniotic fluid levels may impact your ability to feel baby’s movement and accurately count their kicks. “The feeling comes from the movement of baby against the abdomen, so if the extremities are toward the back, or the placenta is between baby and the abdomen, this may decrease the feelings of movement that the patient has,” Atkins says. If you have a condition that limits your ability to feel baby’s kicks, work with your doctor or midwife to come up with a specialized plan for how to monitor baby’s wellbeing.

Additionally, as you reach the end of your pregnancy, it’s normal to not feel baby move as much. This is because they don’t have as much room in the womb! “Toward the end of pregnancy, many patients tell me they’re not feeling baby move as much, or that it doesn’t feel the same,” Cheney says. “That’s often because baby doesn’t have as much space to line up and take a big kick. Instead, babies do more shoulder rolls—and that still counts.”

What to Do If a Kick Count Is Low

If fetal movement seems slow to start or if the number of kicks within that two-hour window are low, try to get baby to move. According to the APA, you may get higher kick counts by:

  • Lying on your left side—as mentioned above, this helps increase blood flow
  • Eating a meal or something sweet, or drinking juice
  • Drinking something cold (like iced water or a glass of milk)
  • Exercising
  • Doing kick counts between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. (just as baby moves when blood sugar spikes, they also move due to declining blood sugar levels)

These tips will often help perk baby up and prompt them to move around a little. If baby’s kick counts aren’t high enough after two hours, the APA recommends waiting a few hours and then trying again. If this still doesn’t work, call your healthcare provider. It’s worth noting that some doctors prefer to be notified if baby’s kick counts don’t reach 10 within an hour (instead of two), so talk to your provider about their recommended protocol for your pregnancy.

About the experts:

Kristin Atkins, MD, FACOG, is a maternal fetal health medicine specialist. She earned her medical degree from Eastern Virginia Medical School and has served as an assistant professor at NYU School of Medicine and University of Maryland School of Medicine. Currently, she is an assistant professor in the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at Howard University College of Medicine.

Megan Cheney, MD, MPH, is the medical director of the Women’s Institute at Banner University Medical Center Phoenix. She earned her medical degree and a Master’s degree in public health from the University of Arizona.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

Most mothers-to-be eagerly await that first reassuring baby kick, just to know their baby is growing and developing. Sometime between 18-25 weeks into the pregnancy, moms will begin to feel movement. For first-time moms, it may occur closer to 25 weeks, and for second or third-time moms, it may occur closer to 18 weeks.

Counting Baby Kicks is Important

Don’t panic if you’re not sure what you’re feeling. For a couple of weeks, it may be difficult to distinguish between gas and the real thing, but very soon, you will notice a pattern. You will gradually learn your baby’s sleeping and waking cycles when he or she is most active, and what seems to trigger activity.

Being attentive to your baby’s movements will help you notice any significant changes. Setting aside time every day when you know your baby is active to count kicks, swishes, rolls, and jabs may help identify potential problems and can help prevent stillbirth. Though strongly recommended for high-risk pregnancies, counting fetal movements beginning at 28 weeks may be beneficial for all pregnancies.

Making the most of these precious moments

Generally, moms find their babies are most active after eating a meal or something sweet, drinking something very cold, or after physical activity. You may also find your baby to be more active between 9:00 pm and 1:00 am, as your blood sugar level is declining.

Taking time to do your baby kick counts will encourage you to rest and bond with your baby. Start by finding a comfortable position during a time when your baby is usually most active. Some moms prefer sitting in a well-supported position with their arms holding their bellies. Other moms prefer lying on their left sides, which they find most comfortable and most effective for monitoring their babies. Lying on your left side also allows for the best circulation which could lead to a more active baby.

Counting your baby’s movements

There are numerous ways to count your baby’s movements and numerous opinions on how many movements you are looking for within a certain amount of time. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that you time how long it takes you to feel 10 kicks, flutters, swishes, or rolls. Ideally, you want to feel at least 10 movements within 2 hours. You will likely feel 10 movements in less time than that.

You might want to start a notebook or use the various charts below. In a notebook, record the time you feel the first fetal movement, place a checkmark for each movement you feel until you reach 10, then record the time of the tenth movement. This will help you observe patterns and discover how long it normally takes for your baby to move 10 times.

Keep in mind you are looking for significant deviations from the pattern.
It can become easy to expect an exact amount of time every time you do your kick counts; however, there can be a wide range of time differences. So remember to look for significant deviations from the pattern over the course of a few days.

Paying attention to a fetus's movements in utero has been linked with a decrease in stillbirth. That's why First Candle, the nonprofit group behind the Back to Sleep SIDS-prevention campaign, encourages women to monitor or chart their babies' kicks beginning in the 28th week of pregnancy.

Rather than causing anxiety, reassurance is the most likely result. "Most women who notice a decrease in movement will still have a healthy outcome," says Ob-Gyn Ruth Fretts, M.D., an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston who researches stillbirth prevention. "The biggest concern is when it happens repeatedly."

How to Do a Kick Count

    Pick a time of day when your baby is most active, usually after you've had a snack or light meal.

Once you're sure she's awake, sit with your feet up or lie on your side and start counting movements. Twists, turns, swishes, rolls and jabs also count as "kicks." Hiccups do not.

Log the number of minutes it takes to count 10 movements.

Doing a kick count generally takes 10 to 15 minutes, but it might take as long as two hours. Overweight women may have a harder time perceiving kicks, Fretts says. Also remember that the sensations won't be as sharp and noticeable as your pregnancy progresses and the baby has less room to move around.

  • RELATED:What Does a Baby Kick Feel Like?

Worried When Counting Kicks? Here’s What to Do

Call your doctor or midwife if it takes longer than two hours to count 10 kicks; a non-stress test should be performed to check the baby's heart rate. "This rules out a life-threatening emergency, but it doesn't address the underlying reason for decreased movement," Fretts says.

An ultrasound could offer further explanation, but that is done only about 20 percent of the time in the United States, so you may have to be proactive in asking for one. If the non-stress test comes back normal, continue charting the kicks daily. You should be evaluated each time you perceive a problem, Fretts says.

Also be aware that if the idea of charting kicks makes you anxious, studies have shown that simply paying attention to your baby's movements in utero and reporting potential problems to your doctor or midwife can also reduce the possibility of stillbirth.

Few pregnancy milestones are as exciting as feeling your baby’s first kick. While you may not recognize that funny feeling at first, when you do, those kicks sure can put a smile on your face.

When will I start feeling the baby kick?

You may start feeling your baby move between 18 and 22 weeks of pregnancy, but you won’t usually feel kicks until 22 to 26 weeks. Around 30 to 32 weeks, you’ll typically feel more kicking. By 40 weeks, your baby has grown larger and may have less room to move around, so their movements may feel smaller than before.

When you reach your third trimester, we recommend counting your baby’s kicks. Tracking your little one’s activity can tell us a lot about his or her health. If we give you a kick count card, fill it out daily and bring it to your prenatal visits. If we don’t give you one, you can download a kick count card here.

How to count your baby’s kicks

The best time to count kicks is whenever your baby is typically the most active. Do you feel your little one moving around a lot at a certain time each day? If your baby doesn’t have a predictable pattern, after dinner is a good time to try.

To fill out your card, follow these steps:

  1. Lie down on your side or relax in a comfortable chair.
  2. Make a note of the time.
  3. Pay attention only to your baby’s movements. Count any movement that you can feel (except hiccups). Any twist, kick, or turn is 1 movement.
  4. After you count 10 movements, check the time and record on the card how many minutes it took

If your baby does not kick or move within 1 hour

Do some or all of these things and then try again:

  • Eat or drink something, like fruit or juice.
  • Lie on your left side.
  • Walk around for 5 minutes.

When to call us

Call us right away if your baby:

  • Has not moved 10 times by the end of 2 hours
  • Has a sudden decrease in normal activity

If we think something might be wrong, we’ll give you a simple test to make sure everything is OK.

It’s important for expectant mothers to keep track of their baby’s movements. Not only will it give you reassurance that your baby is healthy, but a lack of movement can be the first sign that something is seriously wrong. In fact, monitoring your baby’s fetal kick count has the potential to save your baby’s life.

Counting fetal movements is easy to do, and can be a relaxing time spent bonding with your little one.

Monitoring High-Risk Pregnancy with Fetal Kick Counts

When Should You Start Counting Fetal Movements

Some women can feel their baby’s first kicks anywhere from 16-25 weeks. However, the average for first-time mothers is between the 20-22 week range.

Your doctor will likely suggest beginning to track your baby’s fetal kick counts starting during the third trimester (week 26-27) onward.

Monitoring fetal kick counts are especially important for expectant mothers who have health conditions. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, for example, your doctor will recommend closely keeping track of your baby’s movements.

How to Track and Count Fetal Kicks

Tracking your baby’s movements is somewhat easy. Following a few simple steps is an easy way to reassure yourself that your baby is okay.

Most babies move at least 10 times within any given 1 hour period.

When checking your baby’s fetal kick count, you’ll need the following tools:

  • A comfortable place to sit or lay
  • A journal
  • A timing device

Start by sitting or laying on your side. Begin your timer and count each movement that your baby makes. These movements could include anything from:

  • Rolls
  • Kicks
  • Jabs
  • Flutters

Once you’ve gotten to 5 of these movements, stop counting and record the length of time it took from the first to the last.

More Tips

Here are a few additional tips you may want to follow to help you when you are tracking the fetal movement of your little one:

  • Try to count movements at the same time every day.
  • Try evening or after dinnertime. Some babies are more likely to be more active during this time.
  • Write down times in a daily journal for easy tracking. Your doctor may request to see your times during checkups as well.
  • If you choose to lie down while counting, try to lay on your left side. Circulation will be better for the baby.
  • Stop timing after 5 moves.

When To Call Your Doctor

Babies that do not move at least 5 times within thirty minutes should be checked by your doctor. Movement is an important barometer of your baby’s health.

Sudden increase or decrease in baby’s fetal kick count in the third trimester should also be reported to your doctor, especially if you have health concerns that put you at a high-risk pregnancy.

If your baby doesn’t move within the half hour, don’t panic. Your baby could simply be sleeping. Instead, get up and move around for a few minutes. Grab a bite to eat or drink. After half hour, if your baby still doesn’t seem to be moving, call your doctor immediately. Letting your doctor know that your baby is not moving enough can save their life.

Other Indicators That Require a Call to Your Doctor

  • Rupture of membranes (Water breaking)
  • Contractions every 2-5 minutes (more than 5 per hour)
  • Cramps in the lower abdomen with or without diarrhea
  • Temperature over 100 degrees
  • Vaginal spotting or bleeding

Final Thoughts

Monitoring your little one’s fetal kicks can potentially save your baby’s life. If you’ve got questions or concerns regarding your baby’s movements or would like to schedule an appointment to discuss these techniques with your doctor, feel free to give us a call. One of our helpful staff members would be happy to assist you with your needs.

Fetal movement counting, often called kick counting, is a way a mother can help monitor the movements of her unborn baby by counting the number of kicks in a certain time period.

By 20 weeks gestation, most women are able to feel their baby’s movements. But, movements vary in frequency, strength, and patterns depending on the maturity of the fetus. Generally, most fetuses have circadian (biologically timed) activity rhythms and tend to be more active in the evening hours, beginning as early as the second trimester. Hiccups are quite common, and a fetus may be more active about an hour after the mother eats due to the increase in blood glucose (sugar) in the mother’s blood.

Fetal movement is one indicator of fetal health. Contrary to a common myth, it is not normal for a fetus to stop moving with the onset of labor. Each woman should find the usual pattern and number of movements for her individual pregnancy. As fetuses have sleep cycles, fetal kick counts may be done at any time of day. A change in the normal pattern or number of fetal movements may indicate the fetus is under stress.

How is fetal movement counting done?

Consult your doctor about the importance of fetal movement counting for your individual pregnancy.

Set aside the same time each day to do the counting. After a meal is often a good time.

There are several accepted ways to do kick counts and several different cutoffs as to how many kicks are normal in a certain time frame. Write down the number of times you feel the baby kick or move in one hour. After several days, you may find the baby usually moves about the same number of times per hour–this becomes your baseline number.

If your baby is not moving as much as usual, or takes longer to move in the usual length of time, or has stopped moving, call your doctor right away. Other testing can be done to check the condition of the baby.

How to perform fetal kick counts

Recommended by Leigh Belin, BSN, RNC, Clinical Educator, Maternal Child.

Studies have found that counting the kicks, monitoring a baby’s movement, and being aware of changes in that movement during the third trimester of pregnancy can be a reliable indicator of the baby’s health. This is why United Hospital Center OBGYN is working with Count the Kicks to encourage expectant mothers to monitor their baby’s movement and count the kicks each day of their pregnancy, starting at 28 weeks.

Monitoring a baby’s movement is made easier with the help of the free Count the Kicks mobile app, available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. The app was created to help expectant mothers track their baby’s movements throughout the third trimester and recognize changes from day-to-day. The app features a timed kick counter, a section for adding notes to describe the kicks, and an alert that can be set to remind parents to track the kicks each day.

Count the Kicks can educate expectant parents on how to monitor their baby’s movement and to know what to look for as far as any changes. Drastic changes in a baby’s movement may indicate that the baby is unwell or under some stress. In these situations, it is recommended that the mother seek medical attention immediately.

How to Monitor Fetal Movement in the Third Trimester

  • Pick a time of day when your baby is most active. Set a reminder for yourself to count the kicks at that same time every day.
  • Find a comfortable position to rest in while you count, such as sitting with your feet up or laying on your side.
  • Start a timer and record how long it takes for your baby to make ten movements.
  • Take notes on the usual strength of each of these movements along with other characteristics such as speed of each individual movement and time between movements.
  • Take notes every day! These notes can help you to recognize when changes occur and can help during visits with your physician.

United Hospital Center encourages all expectant mothers to talk with their OBGYN and health care providers for more information on fetal movement monitoring and to visit online at https://countthekicks.org/ to learn more.

Download the free Count the Kicks mobile app today from the Apple App store and Google Play store.

About Count the Kicks
Count the Kicks is an evidence-based campaign that teaches expectant parents about the importance of tracking fetal movements. Count the Kicks was created by Healthy Birth Day, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing stillbirths through their public health campaign.

Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing related symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.

How to perform fetal kick counts

Fetal movement is one of the most reliable non-medical ways to track your baby’s health and development. It can also provide an opportunity for you to slow down, relax and connect with your little one in the days and weeks before arrival. However, performing a kick count can too often become a point of stress and anxiety for a mother.

At St. Luke’s we aim to educate mothers on why kick counts are important, when it’s the right time to perform one, how to perform one correctly, and when it might be time to contact their doctor.

Kick counts track fetal movement. And a decrease in fetal movement may be a sign that your baby is in distress and needs to be delivered.

Kick counts don’t need to be performed daily. A mother is the best person to judge fetal activity. And, if you’re noticing your baby not moving as much as you’re used to, that’s the time to perform a kick count. However, scheduling it into your daily tasks is unnecessary and can add anxiety to an exciting time.

Kick counts work best when you are relaxed. I advise my patients to drink a big glass of water, have a snack, and lie down on their left side, placing their hands on their belly. Think of this more as a time for relaxation and connection than a medical procedure.

You’re looking for ten movements in an hour. The term ‘kick count’ is a bit of a misnomer, because you’re not only looking to count strong kick-like movements. In fact, in your third trimester, there’s not really much room for your baby to kick any longer. What you’re tracking are all movements. They can be as subtle as a flutter or as firm as a roll. Any noticeable fetal movement counts toward the total.

Call the birthing center if you don’t feel ten movements in an hour. But remember, babies sleep for long periods of the day and decreased fetal movement doesn’t always signal an issue. What will likely happen is the staff will ask you to come in so they can put your baby on a heart monitor and possibly perform a live ultrasound to check-in and provide you with some reassurance.

If there are any further concerns after these additional checks, the St. Luke’s birthing center is prepared to guide you and your baby through the next steps.

You should start to feel your baby move between around 16 to 24 weeks of pregnancy. If this is your first baby, you might not feel movements until after 20 weeks.

If you have not felt your baby move by 24 weeks, tell your midwife. They’ll check your baby’s heartbeat and movements.

You should feel your baby move right up to and during labour.

Other people cannot feel your baby move as early as you can. When they can feel the movements, by putting a hand on your bump, is different for everyone.

What your baby's movements feel like

The movements can feel like a gentle swirling or fluttering. As your pregnancy progresses, you may feel kicks and jerky movements.

Urgent advice: Call your midwife or maternity unit immediately if:

  • your baby is moving less than usual
  • you cannot feel your baby moving anymore
  • there is a change to your baby’s usual pattern of movements

They’ll need to check your baby’s movements and heartbeat.

Do not wait until the next day – call immediately, even if it’s the middle of the night.

How often should your baby move?

There’s no set number of movements you should feel each day – every baby is different.

You do not need to count the number of kicks or movements you feel each day.

The important thing is to get to know your baby’s usual movements from day to day.

Important

Do not use a home doppler (heartbeat listening kit) to try to check the baby's heartbeat yourself. This is not a reliable way to check your baby's health. Even if you hear a heartbeat, this does not mean your baby is well.

Why your baby's movements are important

If your baby is not well, they will not be as active as usual. This means less movement can be a sign of infection or another problem.

The sooner this is found out the better, so you and your baby can be given the right treatment and care.

This could save your baby’s life.

Can your baby move too much

It’s not likely your baby can move too much. The important thing is to be aware of your baby’s usual pattern of movements.

Any changes to this pattern of movements should be checked by a midwife or doctor.

Find out more

Important: Coronavirus (COVID-19) update

If you're well, it's really important you go to all your appointments and scans for the health of you and your baby.

If you're pregnant, hospitals and clinics are making sure it's safe for you to go to appointments.

If you get symptoms of COVID-19, or you're unwell with something other than COVID-19, speak to your midwife or maternity team. They will advise you what to do.

More in Keeping well in pregnancy

Page last reviewed: 12 October 2021
Next review due: 12 October 2024

Fetal movement counting is a way to check the health of a woman’s unborn baby (fetus). It’s often called kick counting. It’s done by counting the number of kicks you feel from your baby in the uterus in a certain time period.

By 20 weeks gestation, most women are able to feel their baby’s movements. Movements vary in strength and how often they occur. There are different patterns of movement. They depend on the baby’s age. Most babies tend to be more active in the evening hours. This can start as early as the second trimester. A baby may be more active about an hour after the mother eats. This is because of the increase in sugar (glucose) in the mother’s blood. Fetal movement normally increases during the day, with peak activity late at night.

Why might I need to do fetal movement counting?

Fetal movement is one show of a baby’s health in the womb. Each woman should learn the normal pattern and number of movements for her own baby. A change in the normal pattern or number of fetal movements may mean the baby is under stress. And keep in mind that it’s not normal for a baby to stop moving with the start of labor.

What are the risks of fetal movement counting?

There are no risks to the mother or unborn baby during fetal movement counting. It can instead help to pick up on decreased fetal movement and help prevent problems for the baby.

How do I get ready for fetal movement counting?

Talk with your healthcare provider about when to do the counting. Set aside the same time each day to count movements. Babies have sleep cycles, so fetal kick counts may be done at any time of day. After a meal is often a good time.

What happens during fetal movement counting?

There are several ways to do kick counts. And there are several guidelines for how many kicks are normal in a certain time. For example, write down the number of times you feel the baby kick or move in 1 hour. After several days, you may find the baby usually moves about the same number of times per hour. This becomes your baseline number.

Do the counting as often as your healthcare provider advises.

What happens after fetal movement counting?

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Your baby is not moving as much as usual.
  • It takes longer for your baby to move in the usual length of time.
  • Your baby has stopped moving.

Other testing can be done to check the health of your baby. Your healthcare provider will tell you more.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:

  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason you are having the test or procedure
  • What results to expect and what they mean
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • What the possible side effects or complications are
  • When and where you are to have the test or procedure
  • Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
  • What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
  • Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
  • When and how you will get the results
  • Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
  • How much you will have to pay for the test or procedure

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