When Baby Stops Moving in the Womb: Is It Normal?

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pregnant woman bed
Inti St Clair/Blend Images/Corbis

Few sensations in a pregnant mom's life are as thrilling as feeling her unborn baby kick, roll, or otherwise bop around inside her body. Fetal movement generally begins at around 18 to 22 weeks, and it's considered a sign that a baby is likely in good health. But a mom who is used to her baby moving frequently can be in for a big shock when suddenly baby just isn't moving around as much as she's used to. Before you start worrying, know this: an ebb and flow in movement by your unborn baby is normal and usually nothing to worry about.

"The amount that babies move varies," says Christine Proudfit, MD, assistant professor and OB/GYN at NYU Langone Medical Center, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. "Changes in the baby's position, sleep-wake cycles, maternal activity, and placental location are all factors that may play a role." 

Plus, by the third trimester, most babies don't move around as much as they once did because there just isn't room!

This isn't to say that you're a neurotic mother-to-be for worrying.

"Busier pregnant women often are not concentrating on fetal activity and can have a misperception of reduced fetal movement," says Dr. Jessica Shepherd, OB/GYN at Bundoo.com. That's because studies have shown that a women best perceives movement when lying down, fewer when sitting and least while standing.

One of the best ways to lay any fears to rest is to do kick counts starting at 28 weeks, advises Barb Dehn, RN, whose book Nurse Barb's Guide to Pregnancy contains a "kick count sheet" that can also be downloaded from her website. In a nutshell, here's how to do it: Find a time to sit quietly, have something to eat or drink, and then note when you feel your baby move. "Babies should move 10 times or more within 3 hours," says Dehn. "If they don’t, then it’s time to give your health care provider a call."

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From there, doctors may perform an ultrasound, fetal arousal tests (like noises or vibrations against your stomach), and other measures to gauge your baby's health. Lack of movement could be a sign a baby's not getting enough nutrients or oxygen through the placenta or other problems, many of which can be treated or managed medically.

Bottom line: while baby's movements may come and go, drastic drops in their activity levels should be checked with a doctor as a safeguard for your baby's health, not to mention your own peace of mind.

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