When you're pregnant, every test result and measurement brings about all the questions — especially if it's your first rodeo. During the first trimester, you anxiously await catching a glimpse of your baby on an ultrasound and by the second, you become curious about every flutter that might be a tiny kick, even though everyone says, "You'll know it when you feel it." Of course, when the third trimester rolls around, the movements are obvious due to tight quarters, but it doesn't stop you from wondering, "How many times a day should a baby move at 38 weeks?"
“Everybody perceives fetal movement differently,” Dr. Rebecca C. Brightman, a NYC-based OB-GYN and assistant clinical professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai tells Romper. “By 38 weeks of pregnancy, a woman should have a sense of what normal movements are during her pregnancy. If she notices a dramatic change, the first thing she should do is have something with sugar, like juice, or with caffeine.”
But Brightman says if normal fetal movements don’t resume within the hour, then you should call your healthcare provider. You can also try a kick count, but Brightman cautions that this method also varies from one individual to another.
Dr. Lakeisha Richardson, a Mississippi-based board-certified OB-GYN, agrees, adding that fetal movement does tend to slow down in the third trimester because a baby is beginning to run out of room to wiggle around. “However, even with decreased movement, babies should move at least 10 times in a two-hour time period," she tells Romper in an email interview.
Richardson recommends trying the count-to-10 method in a quiet place, while lying on your left side. Place your hand on your abdomen and focus on feeling the baby move. "If you have 10 kicks in less than two hours, you can resume previous activities," she says.
Brightman also adds that babies do have natural sleep cycles during which time a woman won't necessarily perceive movement. "What puts out a red flag for me is if a woman notices a true change," she says. "If that's the case, then I want to hear about it."
Of course, while a lack of movement is typically the result of a resting baby —or at 38 weeks, too little room to move — a decrease in fetal movement can be related to lower delivery of oxygen from the placenta or lower amniotic fluid, Dr. Yvonne Bohn, an OB-GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California tells Romper in an email interview. "As a woman approaches her due date or passes the due date, the function of the placenta may start to decline which will cause decrease in production of amniotic fluid or less efficient transfer of oxygen to the baby," she says.
On the other hand, Dr. Allison Hill, a board-certified OB-GYN and author of Your Pregnancy, Your Way, tells Romper in an email interview that if a baby isn’t moving, it could be due to inadequate oxygen, but it is more likely related to the mother’s perception of movement. "A movement seen on an ultrasound is perceived by the mother only half of the time," she says. Hill explains that fetal movement increases throughout the day, peaks late in the evening between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m., and decreases in the middle of the night as maternal blood sugar levels fall.
Of course, while a lack of movement can be cause for concern, doctors are unsure of the significance of a baby who seems to move too much. "Generally, doctors reassure patients that frequent strong movements and hiccups are not a reason to worry," Hill says, adding that, again, any notable change should be reported to your provider.
As for the alien-like movements that also come along with the 38-week mark? No worries, you're not alone on that one.
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