There is truly something magical happening as you feel your baby twist and turn, hiccup, and dance in your womb. It's one of the most surreal experiences you can have in your lifetime. You could spend hours just holding your belly and attempting to decipher what it is they're doing in there. Sometimes, you may think you can feel the tiny pulses of your baby's butterfly-like heartbeat. The rhythmic "tap tap tap" is intriguing, but is that really what you're feeling? With so much going on in your womb, can you feel your baby's heartbeat through your stomach, or is it something else entirely?
I spoke with ultrasound tech Sylvia Ramos of New York City, and she tells Romper that you could be feeling one of a ton of different pulses that happen all the time in your womb. "Hiccups are really easy to palpate. They come pretty regularly, and a lot of moms think it's the baby's heartbeat before they get used to feeling them."
Ramos tells Romper that it could also be your own heartbeat that you're feeling. "Your abdominal aorta is really active when you're pregnant, and you have a lot more blood, so it's possible that you can feel it through your tummy." Ramos says that the placenta pulse, or the blood that flows through the womb, swishing around and giving your baby what it needs, is felt more acutely in some women than in others. It's just dependent upon the positioning of your uterus and which direction it tilts. If it tilts forward, you may feel it more than if it's more tilted back.
Apparently many women believe that they can feel their baby's tiny heartbeat through the walls of their womb. It's so common that there are tons of message boards out there with women posting about feeling a pulsing sensation in their womb, wondering if this is the tiny flutter of their baby's heartbeat. Alas, this is not the case.
Your baby's heart, even at 40 weeks gestation, is quite small. Surgeons of Hope, a non-profit organization dedicated to treating pediatric cardiovascular problems in marginalized and underserved areas of the globe, wrote that a newborn's heart is no bigger than your average walnut. While that tiny ticker has quite a job, beating around 110 to 150 times per minute, as per medical journal PeerJ, its size makes it almost impossible to discern from outside of the walls of the stomach. There's simply too much viscera between that little organ and your hand. There's amniotic fluid, the wall of the uterus, stomach muscles, adipose tissue, and skin. It would be like trying to feel your own heartbeat through a few winter coats.
But can you feel your baby's heartbeat through your stomach if you're really thin, or if you're having twins? Ramos says it's still very unlikely. She says that "considering how we have to chase it with a doppler that is designed specifically to register a fetal heartbeat," it's unlikely that our hands would be more well-suited to the purpose of feeling it out than a highly-honed instrument. But don't worry, there's so much other cool stuff that you can feel that not being able to feel your baby's heartbeat is really no biggie. If you're desperate to hear it, though, worry not. Of course there's an app for that.
This post was originally published on July 10, 2018. It was updated on Aug. 23, 2019.