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 your first ultrasound; by the second, you become hyper aware of every flutter you feel, wondering if it’s a tiny kick. Of course, when the third trimester rolls around, the movements are obvious due to tight quarters, and you'll notice that your baby is more active on some days than others. As you near your due date, you might even wonder how much your fetus should be moving at 38 weeks. Is he or she more likely to be more active in anticipation of exiting your womb? Or will it feel like they're hibernating because there's just physically less space for them to stretch out?
Like most things that have to do with pregnancy, each case is unique. “Everybody perceives fetal movement differently. By 38 weeks of pregnancy, a woman should have a sense of what normal movements are during her pregnancy,” Dr. Rebecca C. Brightman, NYC-based OB-GYN and assistant clinical professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, tells Romper.
Dr. Lakeisha Richardson, a Mississippi-based board-certified OB-GYN, says 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.
Sure you should feel Baby move throughout the day, but if he’s always been pretty chill in your womb, don’t stress if he’s not nonstop swimming around in there. “If [Mom] notices a dramatic change, the first thing she should do is have something with sugar, like juice, or with caffeine,” Dr. Brightman advises, to encourage Baby to move. And if normal fetal movements don’t resume within the hour, then call your healthcare provider.
If you have the time, there is one way you can more accurately monitor your baby’s movement. Dr. 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. Keep mind though, that this method also varies from one individual to another, cautions Dr. Brightman, and there are several factors to consider. Not everyone has the luxury (or patience) to do this for two straight solid hours. Factor in the fact that you’re pregnant, and you might find that you don’t have the energy to stay awake that long in such a cozy position.
Brightman also adds that babies do have natural sleep cycles during which time a woman won't necessarily perceive movement. This is where having something sugary or caffeinated can help wake the baby up. "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 explains.
On the other hand, Dr. Allison Hill, a board-certified OB-GYN and author of Your Pregnancy, Your Way, tells Romper 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. Dr. Hill explains that fetal movement typically increases throughout the day, peaks late in the evening between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. (there’s a reason why women complain of not being able to fall asleep because their baby seems to be most active when they’re ready for bed), 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," Dr. Hill says, adding that, again, any notable change from what is normal during your specific pregnancy 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.
Dr. Lakeisha Richardson, OB-GYN
Dr. Yvonne Bohn, OB-GYN at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California
Dr. Allison Hill, OB-GYN and author of Your Pregnancy, Your Way
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