Counting Baby's Kicks When You're Pregnant -- How to Do It Right

pregnant woman hands on belly

Between doctor visits, it's normal for a mom-to-be to wonder Is my baby okay? If you're in the third trimester of your pregnancy, you don't have to wait around for your next OB/GYN appointment to find out. Counting fetal kicks at home is an easy way to monitor your baby's movements, which is generally a good barometer of his health. 

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"When the baby is active and moving, this reassures the mom-to-be that the uterine environment and fetus are doing well," explains Melissa Goist, MD, an OB/GYN at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

On the other hand, prolonged bouts of little or no movement could mean he's struggling -- due to a problem with the placenta, umbilical cord or medical conditions with the mom -- which could necessitate an intervention from your doc. Only how much fetal movement is too little? Could you be worrying about nothing?

That's where fetal kick counts come in.

If you have a high-risk pregnancy, your doctor may recommend doing a fetal kick count daily, but even women with otherwise healthy pregnancies can do this on occasion when they feel their baby isn't moving much, or just want to check in for their own peace of mind. Keep in mind that experts don't suggest trying this test until the third trimester -- when baby is big and active enough to make his presence known -- and that it's not 100 percent accurate. Only tests performed in a doctor or midwife's office can truly tell you if baby is healthy or not.

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But if you want to give it a try, here's what the doctors suggest:

How to count fetal kicks

Wait for a time when your baby is usually awake and active. Since a sleeping or resting baby won't move much, your best bet is to try for times when your baby is usually awake. It's best to try about an hour after a meal, since this is when your baby gets a jolt of energy from the food consumed. Or you can try to wake your baby up by drinking a glass of fruit juice; the sugar and cold temperature may gently rouse your baby in as little as a few minutes.

Get in position. Lying down on your left side "promotes optimal blood flow to your baby," explains Jenna LoGiudice, RN, professor at Fairfield School of Nursing. Once you're on your side, rest your hands on your belly or wherever they are comfortable.

Start counting! Jot down your start time, then mark an "x" every instance you feel your baby kick, swish, or roll. Sure, it's not entirely necessary to keep a written log -- counting alone can be enough -- but it can be helpful. "Without a log, it can be easy to lose count, especially if you're distracted by other things," points out Jessica Shepherd, MD, an OB/GYN at Her View Point. "It will also be easier for you to relay this info to a health care provider if you decide to get in touch with them." Free apps exist that can help you keep track of the kicks, like the Baby Kicks Monitor (iOS) or Kickme (Android).

Count to 10 kicks, or keep at it for an hour. Your goal is to feel the baby move at least 10 times in an hour. If your baby moves 10 times in 10 or 15 minutes, consider yourself done. If not, don't get upset. Even if you try to time your count for when your baby is awake, you may still catch your baby when he's inactive, and these periods can last for a long time. Shepherd suggests sticking with it for an hour to give your baby enough time to get moving.

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Call your doctor if you're worried. If, after one hour, your baby hasn't met a 10-kick minimum, try the entire exercise again -- and if you still come up short, consider calling your physician or midwife.

What's your biggest worry during pregnancy?

 

Image via Lex-art/shutters; Panom Pensawang/shutterstock  

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