Leigh-Anne John, a mom of two from Milton, Ont., was obsessive about kick counts when she was pregnant with her daughter, Emily, now 10 months old. “I counted the hell out of her kicks,” John says. “Probably even more than I should have.”
John had lost her second child, a daughter named Lily, at 37 weeks due to a large placental blood clot, so her third pregnancy was, understandably, more emotional and nerve–wracking. “I wasn’t nearly as anxious during my pregnancy with my oldest, Christopher, but after Lily, I was acutely aware of every one of Em’s movements. In addition to the daily counts, if I felt she was a little too quiet, I’d down a glass of juice and start counting the rolls and wiggles.”
For many expectant mothers, the practice of kick counting—which involves counting the number of times a baby moves over a two-hour period, until you log six to 10 movements—is reassuring. It also has the potential to identify an issue with a little one, as decreased movement can be a sign of trouble. While your baby may just be sleeping or in a less obvious position, a drop in fetal movement can also signal anything from low amniotic fluid or a ruptured amniotic sac to a tangled umbilical cord.
“We start asking moms to do kick counts around 28 weeks,” says Katrina Sawatsky, a physician at the Northeast Calgary Women’s Clinic. “By 28 weeks, moms can differentiate kicks from [their own] gas or indigestion, and the baby is big enough that you will feel movement more often. Before then, the counts can be unreliable.”
Fetal development: What your baby's up to in the womb
Daily kick count sessions are easy to do: pick a time when you can relax and be quiet without distractions. Preferably, it’s also a time of day when you’ve noticed the baby tends to be a little more active. (By now you will have learned when it’s more likely to be play time in there.) Some mamas use kick-counting apps to help them track, and to have a record of the activity. “Some people will get six kicks in ten minutes, and that’s fine—they’re done,” says Sawatsky. But if the movements aren’t coming, Sawatsky advises her patients to have a drink or a snack and try again. “If you’re eating or drinking something, the baby is probably going to wake up.”
So what if you’ve had an apple or a bowl of ice cream, it’s been two hours, and you’re still waiting for those little jabs? Contact your health care provider. The same goes for changes in movement. The movements may become smaller the closer you get to delivery, as your little one runs out of womb to move around in, but you should still feel the same frequency of action. If Junior is usually a little David Beckham at all hours and the movement levels drop, make a trip to Labour and Delivery, or go to triage, a walk-in, or a doctor’s office—depending on what you’ve decided with your health care provider beforehand. If you’re with a midwifery practice, page or call your midwife.
“Any change in the amount of movement should be looked into,” says Sawatsky. “Doing the counts daily allows you to know your baby better, which will help you determine if something isn’t quite right.”
Try to stay calm about kick counts, though, as it’s easy to be consumed by the number of punches and flutters. If doing kick counts is making you overly anxious, talk to your doctor about it, and about what makes sense for you. Rising stress levels aren’t great for you or your babe, and unless you are a trained professional, over-the-counter fetal monitors such as Dopplers are not recommended by doctors for at-home use.
For John, kick counts were a way for her to manage her anxiety and to have a small amount of control in an otherwise uncontrollable situation. “I just looked at the time I spent counting Emily’s kicks as bonding time with my girl. I tried not to focus on what the kick counts lead to in the past, and just enjoyed feeling her move.”