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Pregnancy health

Is It Gas or Baby Kicks? When Can You Feel Baby Move

How to know whether those flutters you're feeling are your baby's first kicks or pregnancy gas.

Is It Gas or Baby Kicks? When Can You Feel Baby Move

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"Is it the baby moving or just gas?" Feeling those first flutters and kicks is an exciting moment for pregnant moms, but the movements are so subtle at first, they might keep you guessing. To help clear up the confusion, we consulted with experts who explained how babies move inside the womb, what pregnancy gas feels like, and how to distinguish between the two.

When Can You Feel Baby Move?

From the very first spark of life, babies are on a remarkable journey of rapid growth and transformation. Dr. Lauren Demosthenes, an OBGYN and senior medical director with Babyscripts, notes that while babies grow quickly, it takes some time before you feel their movements.

"An ultrasound can show the baby moving as early as seven to eight weeks," says Demosthenes. "However, most pregnant women won't feel these movements until around 16 weeks to 20 weeks, though some might feel them sooner. This stage is known as quickening in pregnancy."

According to The Cleveland Clinic, "quickening" means the first movements that a mother can feel. It's different for every woman and is usually described as light taps, flutters or small muscle spasms in the lower belly, near the pubic bone.

What Factors Determine When Your Baby Will Move?

There are several reasons why you may feel your baby's first movements at different times during pregnancy, according to Demosthenes.

"If this is your first pregnancy and you have an anterior placenta, meaning that your placenta is in front of your uterus, it can delay feeling the baby move," she explains. "The placenta acts like a cushion between the baby and your belly wall."

Your body mass index (BMI) and the amount of amniotic fluid around the baby can also affect when you first feel movements. A 2015 article from UT Southwestern Medical Center in Texas states that women with higher BMIs may not feel the initial fetal movements as early as others. Additionally, when there is less fluid around the baby, the movements may not be as noticeable to the mother.

What Do Early Baby Movements Feel Like?

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A woman lies on her side in bed. Her hand rests on her pregnant belly.

Pregnancy flutters can be very gentle, like a small bubble or a soft feather brushing against your tummy.

"Initially, it may feel like a little bubble that you might get in your bathing suit or like a feather tickling the inside of your abdomen," she explains. You might not feel movements daily, but they usually start around 20 weeks."

As your pregnancy progresses and your baby grows, fetal movements will become more pronounced, and you'll likely feel kicks and movements in other areas, such as your sides and higher up under your ribs, according to UnityPoint Health, a network of hospitals and healthcare services based in the Midwestern United States.

Gas Bubbles During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, many physical changes occur. Some common issues include back pain, constipation, needing to urinate often and feeling gassy.

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Dr. Christine Greves, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist, and expert contributor with Drugwatch, explains that the increased gas is due to higher levels of progesterone, a hormone essential for pregnancy. This hormone slows down digestion, leading to more gas in the body.

However, Demosthenes points out that the discomfort caused by gas during pregnancy is the same as what you might feel when you're not pregnant. "Sometimes, this discomfort can be mistaken for pregnancy-related issues, but it's just gas," she says. "You can tell it's gas pain because it usually happens in the lower left quadrant of your abdomen."

Distinguishing Between Gas and Baby Movements

Gas pain and baby movements can feel similar, but there are some important differences. One main difference is where you feel these sensations.

"Unlike gas, baby movements are not usually limited to the left lower part of your belly," Greeves says. "As your pregnancy progresses, you learn where your baby is positioned. For example, if your baby is head-down (which happens in about 96 per cent of births), you'll feel movements in the upper part of your uterus from the baby's little limbs kicking."

Gas pains and fetal movements can also vary in terms of their duration and pattern. Dr. Michael Reed, MD, a cosmetic gynecologist says, "Baby kicks tend to be more prolonged and occur at regular intervals, while gas pains are typically more sporadic and irregular. Once this becomes noticeable, mothers tend to recognize the kicks at certain times of the day when the baby is more active."

When Will I Feel My Baby Move Regularly?

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Demosthenes explains that early fetal movement is subtle since the baby is not fully grown yet. But as the baby grows, you can feel kicks, stretches, or rolls. This usually happens after 24 weeks.

Demosthenes also says that it's important to pay close attention to any changes in how the baby moves starting from the 28th week. "Even though some medically reviewed research disagrees about how helpful it is to count these movements, it's still important to tell your doctor if you notice any changes in how the baby is moving after 28 weeks."

How to Check Your Baby's Movements During Pregnancy

As your pregnancy journey reaches the 28th week, Dr. Greeves underscores the importance of paying attention to patterns of movement. These tiny wiggles and kicks serve as a reassuring sign of your little one's well-being.

To keep a watchful eye on your baby's activity levels, The Cleveland Clinic recommends starting kick counts around 28 weeks to 40 weeks. During this time, you can either count the number of kicks you feel within a one-hour window or note the time it takes to feel 10 movements.

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While it might be tempting to use an at-home Doppler to track your baby's movements, it's not the most reliable option. Dopplers are designed to monitor your baby's heartbeat, but they can't accurately detect kicks or other movements. Fortunately, there are apps like Kick Counter and Count the Kicks that can help you keep track of your baby's kicks during pregnancy.

When to Contact Your Healthcare Provider

During pregnancy, it's normal to feel your baby move and have gas. However, there are times when you should talk to your doctor for extra help.

Greeves says that if you start to feel a change in your baby's movement pattern, you should call your healthcare provider. They might ask you to count how many times your baby kicks or have a special check-up to make sure your baby is okay.

Gas is usually not a problem during pregnancy. However, if you have gas with nausea, vomiting or severe pain, Dr. Reed suggests that you should go to the doctor right away.

Experts:

  • Dr. Christine Greves, M.D., an obstetrician and gynecologist, and expert contributor with Drugwatch,
  • Dr. Lauren Demosthenes, an OBGYN and Senior Medical Director with Babyscripts
  • Dr. Michael Reed, MD, a cosmetic gynecologist
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This article was originally published on Jun 11, 2024

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Courtney Leiva has over 11 years of experience producing content for numerous digital mediums, including features, breaking news stories, e-commerce buying guides, trends, and evergreen pieces. Her articles have been featured in HuffPost, Buzzfeed, PEOPLE, and more.

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