Congratulations mama-to-be! Pregnancy is often exciting but also frequently nerve wracking. One thing you can do to help put your mind at ease is monitoring your baby’s movements through kick counting. It may seem daunting, but trust me it’s easier than it sounds. Plus it’s a great way to bond with your little one to ensure their well-being. Nothing puts a mother’s mind at ease more than those gentle, but sometimes violent kicks. In this guide you will learn:
- Why does kick counting matter?
- How and When to start kick counting?
- What to do if your kick counts are low?
- Best tool to monitor kicks
Table of Contents
What is Kick Counting?
Fetal movement counts or more commonly known as “kick counting” is a tool that mothers can use to assess fetal health. It is when you count the fetal movements for a specific number of movements or over a specific length of time regularly. Any change in your baby’s normal movement over the course of 3-4 days can indicate your fetus is under stress and would warrant a follow up with your midwife or OBGYN.
Why is Kick Counting Important?
This is a affordable, non-invasive tool every mom has access to to identify potential problems. Even healthy fetuses can experience distress. By educating yourself on fetal kick counting you are arming yourself with a skill and knowledge to act if you need to.
For example: Day 1: 10 kicks/35 min; Day 2: 10 kicks/28 min; Day 3: 10 kicks/39 min; Day 4: 10 kicks/90 mins. You can see a big change in activity level on day 4. You would want to follow steps to reassess your baby after attempting to “wake baby”. If it continues to be far from their normal you would contact your doctor. They may want to do further monitoring determine the health of your baby.
Dr. Alexander Heazell, a OBGYN and researcher, found that by teaching moms how to perform kick counts in the state of Iowa, they saw a 1% decrease in the number of stillbirths in their state every 3 months. Compared to three other neighboring states Iowa continues to decrease their stillbirth rate after implementing Dr. Heazells’ education program called, Count the Kicks.
In 10 years the state of Iowa decreased their stillbirth rate by 32%. That is roughly 83 babies a year! It could mean saving your baby’s life.
One Mom’s Story
Jeanette was a first time mom who learned at a routine ultrasound at 28 weeks that her son was measuring 2 weeks behind. Her doctor recommended she see a Maternal Fetal Medicine doctor for more extensive ultrasounds and tests throughout the remainder of her pregnancy. After that first meeting with the MFM doctor she was assured everything was fine and he was just a little small. Her regular twice monthly nonstress tests gave her confidence that if anything was wrong it would be caught early.
However, at 35 weeks, Jeanette woke up to find her son was not moving as much as normal. She was just seen at the office the day before and was given the nonstress test. She tried to reassure herself that everything was fine. She recalls, “I remember feeling one little kick later that day and instantly felt reassured that he was okay, and that it was probably just me overreacting as a first time mom.”
However, as the day went on, movements decreased significantly. Her husband and family members tried to reassure her everything was probably fine, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. She called her doctor and was told to come in to be monitored. As she was placed on the monitor the doctors quickly noticed her son was in bad shape, and an emergency C section was performed.
Her son was delivered dark purple and needed to be resuscitated immediately. He was quickly rushed off to the NICU where he spent the next 32 days recovering. He was born at 4lbs 2 oz. It was a very traumatic time for Jeanette and her husband.
The doctor who performed Jeanette’s C section thanked her for noticing her son’s decreased fetal movements. He told her if she had waited until the next day, her son would not have made it. Jeanette later learned after pathology reports that her placenta was extremely small and was the reason for her son’s growth delay, eventually becoming too small to sustain her son’s life.
She later learned that her son suffered a brain injury (Periventricular Leukomalacia) due to the lack of oxygen and nutrients normally provided by the placenta. Because of the brain damage he has spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. Her son Dallin is now almost 4 years old and thriving! He faces a lot of challenges but he is persistent in facing them. They call him determined Dallin!
Jeanette’s monitoring and quick action saved her son’s life. She now advocates and shares her story with other mothers, so they too can understand the value of kick counting and Estimated Placental Volume (EVPs) .
When to Start Kick Counting
Kicks or fetal movements can be hard to decipher in the beginning, especially if you are a first time mom. Most women won’t feel fetal movements until about 18-28 weeks.
These movements can be described as “flutters, swishes, butterflies, jabs, or rolls.” At 18 weeks your baby is about the size of a sweet pepper and is still building their strength. Their movements may be mistaken for gas and upset stomach at that point.
As your baby continues to grow you will feel those movements become stronger and stronger. It will become more apparent that what you are feeling is your baby and not just gas bubbles.
It is most important to regularly count your baby’s movements in the third trimester or after 28 weeks. You can start counting your baby’s movements prior to 28 weeks if you can consistently decipher their movements. However, their movements are likely to be more sporadic. Moms who have had one or more children are more likely to identify those movements earlier in their pregnancy.
How to Count Kicks
There are two methods of counting kicks. For both methods you will find a relaxed and comfortable position. This could be a seated reclined positions with your feet up or laying on your side. It is recommended to lay on your left side as it will allow for best blood flow for your baby. Have a notebook and clock/timer to account for your baby’s fetal movements. It is important to limit your distractions at this time.
How to count kicks at 28 weeks and beyond:
Number of Kicks per Hour
- Get into a comfortable position.
- Set a timer for 1 hour after you feel the first movement.
- During that hour make a tally in your notebook for every movement you feel.
- At the end of the hour count up all the tally’s on the page.
- Make a note in your notebook to track your daily count.
Time it takes to get to 10
- Get into a comfortable position.
- Start your timer when you feel your first “kick”.
- Tally your kicks until you reach 10.
- Stop your timer when you reach 10.
- Note the time it took in your notebook.
Count the Kicks App
Count the Kicks free app can make this process so much easier. You simply choose a time of day that your baby is typically active. Sit down and open the app. When you feel your first kick you hit the big blue foot icon. That will start the timer for you. You will hit the blue foot for each movement you feel. Once you reach 10 it will stop the timer and prompt you to rate the strength of the kicks.
If you set up an account it will then track your daily kick counts and strength on an easy to read chart. This will help you to identify if something is out of the ordinary and prompt you to contact your doctor if needed.
There is an option to send your results to your provider to easily communicate your concerns.
What to do if Kick Counts are Low
It is suggested by the American Pregnancy Association that you have 10 movements over the course of 2 hours. However, if you are doing this regularly even a significant change in your baby’s fetal movements would be something to take action on, even if it is not below that standard.
If your baby’s movements are low compared to that standard or based on their typical movements you should try some methods to “wake baby” and try again before calling your provider.
How to wake up baby for kick counts:
- Eat or drink something with high sugar content
- Drink something cold
- Move your body (practice a safe exercise that will increase your heart rate)
- Go for a walk
- Eat a meal
If you are still concerned about your baby’s fetal movements after trying these methods and counting your kicks again, call your provider. Your provider can give you further guidance. Always listen to your gut!
Most providers can see you in their office or OB units in the hospital assess you and your baby. Some available options are to check fetal heart tones (to assess heart rate) or place your baby on fetal heart monitor to ensure your baby is not under stress. If they are, your provider has the resources to provide you and your baby with the interventions you need. Your actions could just save your baby’s life.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many kicks should you feel in an hour?
You should feel 10 kicks (roll, jab, or kick) per 2 hours according to the Cleveland Clinic. Most women will see 10 kicks in an hour or less. Don’t worry if you count less than 10 kicks in 2 hours. Try stimulating your baby and count again. It is best to do your kick count during a time of the day your baby is most active.
Contact your doctor if you are concerned about your baby’s movements. They are familiar with you and your baby. They can give you more specific advice for what is appropriate. This is general guidance and will not apply to every pregnant woman.
How many times a day should I do kick counts?
You only need to do kick counts once per day during a time that your baby is typically active. You may need to do more than one assessment if your kick counts are outside of your baby’s “normal” behavior.
Is it normal to feel baby move some days and not others?
Prior to 30 weeks your baby’s movements will be sporadic. Some days you will notice that they move a lot and others their movements might be much less. Healthy babies will move without a lot of predictable behavior at this point in development.
After 30 weeks, their behaviors should be predictable and definite. If someone asks, “have you felt your baby move?” You should be able to definitively say yes. It is much easier to track movements at that point.
Kick count is crucial in even healthy pregnancies. It is something that is not only affordable, but can easily be done with little to no training. The count the kicks program is saving 100s of baby’s lives every year, because this research proven method educates women to know when to take action. So even if this is your first rodeo, don’t worry you will get the hang of it. Download your app today and start talking to your provider about your baby’s fetal movements.
Jess is a registered nurse with over 6+ years of critical care experience for patients young and old and is the mother of two small children. After having her own children she felt inspired to provide mothers with real actionable guidance and education to make informed decisions throughout their pregnancy and postpartum experience.