Do Babies Kick Differently When In Distress?

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Babies have quite a colorful personality even when they’re in the womb. And they let you know all about it by kicking too much, snoozing like a log or even hiccupping for that matter. These movements are their way to let you know “Hey mom; everything’s going great down here. Thanks for renting out this warm space to me. I’ll see you soon!”

But sometimes, their familiar movement patterns change, and you can’t help but wonder if they’re trying to SOS you? For example, would they kick differently if they were in distress or danger?

Well, doctors and experts are of the opinion that it is not quite so.

Dr. Jaime Knopman, who is the director at New York’s Colorado Center For Reproductive Medicine, and also the co-founder of a medical website called TrulyMD (1), stated in an interview that the way the baby kicks has nothing to do with its distress level. She said, “In fact, the opposite may occur — a baby in distress will often have a decrease in fetal movement. A change in fetal movement is often a sign that something is not right and you should contact your OB-GYN immediately.”

This means that you don’t need to go into panic mode if your baby kicks differently than usual. It’s only a cause for concern when your actively kicking baby suddenly stops doing so or when his movement pattern suddenly takes a very different turn.

Research has shown that babies who are doing fine in their mother’s womb will show signs of movement in response to external stimuli and will have stable heartbeats as well (2). On the other hand, infants who are in distress generally have a lower heart rate and an altered pattern of movement.

That said, it can be very difficult to define ‘normal fetal movement’ as that can vary from baby to baby. This is the reason why expecting mothers should count their baby’s kicks so that they know for sure if something has gone terribly wrong. Experts opine that kick counts can come in very handy when trying to assess what qualifies as a healthy fetal movement. The ideal number is supposed to be 10 movements (no matter the type) within two hours for at least twice each day.

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OB-GYNs suggest that when to-be-mums sense that their baby’s movement pattern has changed, they should immediately choose a quiet spot to lie down, and sleep on their left side. After that, they should try to count the number of fetal movements taking place in a two-hour period by placing their hands on their bellies (3). If 10 movements are felt, mums can be sure everything is fine.

However, despite kick counts being a good way to know if your baby is fine, you still shouldn’t swear by it. In fact, you should only perform this little exercise if you notice a drastic decrease in your baby’s daily movements. This is because fetuses generally spend the majority of their time sleeping (4) and most of their movements are only felt when you’re done eating or are trying to sleep. So there’s not much to worry about.

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Now if we go on the other side and talk about aggressive movements, there’s not much data available to prove it’s a bad thing. However, there has been a case of vigorous fetal movement resulting in stillbirth (5). Therefore, you should report anything that feels strange.

Pregnancy is a delicate time. Hence, to be sure that both you and your baby are safe, you should report anything out of the ordinary without hesitation. No question or concern is too small when a human life is concerned.