It’s the question that’s on just about every mama’s mind when they’re in the first trimester: When will I feel the baby move? Fact is, there are no hard rules. Also known as quickening, when you can feel the baby move happens at different times for each mama. Here’s what to expect for fetal movement in your pregnancy, as well as what’s normal, what’s not, and what to do about it.

But first, why is it called “quickening”?

Where does the term Quickening come from?

Historically speaking, quickening, or fetal movement, was the first indication of life in the womb thus the term “quick” meaning “alive”. (No ultrasounds or Dopplers back then!)

In the 18th century, William Blackstone, a legal scholar, described quickening, or movement, as the beginning of life:

“Life… begins in contemplation of law as soon as an infant is able to stir in the mother’s womb.”

He explained that fetal movement was viewed as a marker of life for a child in a legal sense, to protect the child and mother legally if anything were to happen to the unborn child or pregnant woman. Though people have many different views of when life begins, quickening has historically been one marker in a legal sense.

Why does baby move?

Movement is a normal part of your baby’s development. Most movements are practice for life outside the womb.

  • Baby practices using her lungs by “breathing” amniotic fluid.
  • She practices eating by swallowing fluids and eventually urinates in utero to kick those kidneys in gear.
  • She also moves her muscles and stretches.

Some movements are a response to external stimuli, like light or sound. Others are curiosity movements, like, “Hey, this arm thing in front of me just moved. I wonder if I can make it do that again… Woah!”

Some babies have been caught (on ultrasound) playing with their umbilical cords or sucking their thumb; sometimes they even “walk” on the inside of the uterus in preparation for making their first journey from mom’s abdomen to her breast (which is why skin to skin is so important!).

When can you feel the baby move?

When will you feel quickening in pregnancy? Well, the easy and vague answer is: sometime between 16 weeks and 25 weeks.

When exactly you notice those first fetal movements varies from mama to mama and pregnancy to pregnancy.

First-time moms may not notice movement until closer to 25 weeks, or may not know for sure if what they’re feeling is really a baby. Experienced moms tend to notice sooner.

Why do experienced moms notice baby move sooner? Two reasons.

  1. They already know the difference between baby movement and other internal rumblings.
  2. Women, who have carried babies before, have more relaxed uterine muscles, and therefore their uteruses are more sensitive to movement.

What does it feel like when baby moves during pregnancy?

Some women describe it as the fluttering of a butterfly or an angel’s wing.

Others feel quickening as a tumbling or twitching sensation.

And still others think it feels like bubbles or gas.

Keep in mind that the fundal (top of the uterus) height is still relatively low when quickening happens, so pay attention to your lower abdomen for signs of fetal movement.

As you move into your second and third trimesters, you’ll notice movements more often and may even have a good idea of what body parts are making those jabs!

Keep in mind that the placement of your placenta will also influence your ability to feel baby’s movement. With my first pregnancy, my placenta was posterior (more common), so I could really feel Griffin’s movement. With my second pregnancy, I had an anterior placenta (meaning it laid on the outfacing side of my belly) and Paloma’s movements were muffled as a result.

Will it hurt if/when baby is moving?

Quickening is such a small, gentle movement that it can’t hurt you. But this may change as your pregnancy continues. 🙂

As baby gets larger, particularly in the last few weeks of pregnancy, you may notice discomfort when baby moves. And yes, it may even hurt a bit when your little karate master gives you a big judo chop to the ribs or bladder.

But pain is the exception, not the rule. Mostly, baby movement is just a curious pressure—and a joyful one. Many moms say that the movement in their womb helps them feel more connected to baby.

When baby flips to a head-down position (sometime in the last few weeks of pregnancy), you may notice a stretching feeling that can be intense but shouldn’t be too painful. If you notice pain, contact your healthcare provider as a precaution.

Should I be monitoring and keeping track of baby’s movement?

In the early part of your pregnancy, you will begin to notice movement but won’t notice every movement, so there is no reason to monitor.

As you start to identify what baby movement feels like, you can and should start monitoring… especially when you reach week 25 and beyond.

How to monitor fetal movement in pregnancy

Studies show that fetal movement monitoring can be a very effective way to determine your baby’s health in utero. (For more detailed information about fetal movement, check out our kick count post!)

Here’s a quick recap on how to do:

  • Find a comfortable place to rest. Sitting or laying down are both fine. Choose a time when your baby is most active (usually in the evening). Some moms choose to count when they are laying down for bed, since it’s easy to detect baby’s movement when you are still.
  • Start counting any rolls, punches, kicks or movements from baby. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that you look for 10 movements within 2 hours. Some practitioners want more activity (more on that below).
  • If you haven’t felt 10 movements in that time frame, drink some juice or eat some dark chocolate to give baby a little boost of glucose, and then count again. You can gently push on your belly where you feel the baby to get her to wake up and start moving too.

To be more proactive and conservative, you want to feel even more movement than ACOG’s recommendations…

“After 28 weeks the baby should have at least 3 active periods of movement in a 24 hour period, in each of those active periods the baby should move at least 6 times in a half hour (or 10 movements in an hour). Small, subtle movements also count as movement.” — Cynthia Mason, CNM, APN, MSN

Keep in mind that the number of kicks per hour is not as important as understanding your baby’s schedule and noting when something is different. For example, if baby is always active at bed time, and one night isn’t active at all, it might be a good time to count kicks and call your provider to be sure baby is ok.

With my first pregnancy, my son Griffin was a pretty busy baby. But one day, I couldn’t feel him move for a few hours in the morning. My husband and I were on vacation—a long way away from our midwife’s clinic—and I was feeling anxious. I ended up chugging a glass of OJ, and sure enough, the blood sugar spike roused my baby from his deep slumber about 20 minutes later, and he started moving like crazy.

Griffin continues to be a deep sleeper to this day—and a great lover of orange juice too. 🙂

What if I don’t feel baby moving?

Don’t panic. Baby may just be very sleepy, or perhaps all of her movements happened while you were busy with an older child and you didn’t notice them. Likely, your baby is fine. However, call your midwife or doctor immediately to be safe.

What will a midwife or doctor do if baby’s not moving often?

Your midwife or doctor might give you some instructions for getting baby moving. If this doesn’t work, your midwife or doctor may ask you to go in to the hospital to be monitored.

At the hospital, they will give you a non-stress test and monitor baby’s movements, heart rate, and any contractions. They may offer you some juice to get baby moving.

If the monitoring looks good, you can probably go home. If it shows any possible issues, they may want to use an ultrasound to check baby.

When will my partner be able to feel the baby move from the outside?

It’s the classic Hollywood moment: your partner has his hand on your belly, and all of a sudden… jab, jab, jab, right hook! Your partner’s eyes light up, you two melt in an embrace, and this life that is inside of you has just become all the more real and wondrous for both of you.

You can expect this to happen somewhere between 20 and 30 weeks. Women who are overweight may have to wait a little longer for movement to be noticeable from the outside.

As baby gets bigger, his movements will get bigger and may take your breath away! From the outside, you may notice your belly moving and contorting with your baby’s movements (an iconic Hollywood moment—this time from Aliens).

However, as you near delivery, baby will have less space to move around, so his movements may not be as wild.

Fetal movement by trimester

If you’re looking for a quick guide to when you should feel fetal movement in pregnancy, here it is by trimester!

First trimester

Your baby will start to move around week 8, but you won’t feel it that early. In fact, you probably won’t feel it at all during the first trimester.

Second trimester

You may notice early fluttering movements, but you will likely be unsure if they are your baby or something else.

As you move through the second trimester, you will begin to feel baby movement for reals. You may even begin to feel baby hiccups, which feel like repetitive, rhythmic bumps, or like popcorn popping.

Third trimester

In the third trimester, you will definitely be noticing hiccups and baby kicks and stretches. You will probably even know what body parts are making which movements. Massive kick to your ribs? That’s a leg. Judo chop to your belly? That’s an arm.

You will begin to notice baby’s position, and you may be able to play games with baby. Push on his or her foot and s/he may kick you back!

How about you?

When did YOU first feel your baby move? How often did baby move during pregnancy? What did it feel like? Share with us in the comments below!