Feeling your baby kick, twist, wriggle, punch and hiccup is simply one of pregnancy's biggest thrills (and it sure beats heartburn, puffy feet and other hallmarks of these nine months). There may be no better proof that a brand-new life is developing within you.

But fetal movement during pregnancy can also drive a mom-to-be batty with questions. Is my baby kicking enough? Too much? Does my baby have four legs (because it sure feels that way when the kicking starts)?

Although every baby is different when it comes to fetal movement, it helps to take a peek into your baby's world to understand what's going on in there and what to expect, when.

When do you start feeling the baby move?

Most women feel the first fetal movement, known as quickening during pregnancy, around weeks 18 to 22 — although you might feel those initial signs of activity any time between weeks 14 to 26. Before then, your baby is far too tiny and too deeply within the protective cushioning of your womb to make a blip on your radar.

Pregnant women who are slim or expecting for the second time may more likely feel first movements around month 4 of pregnancy. But for the most part, women aren’t aware of the flits and twitches (which can feel a lot like gas or muscle spasms) until the start of month 5.

The position of the placenta can also impact when you’ll feel fetal movement: If it's facing front, also called an anterior placenta, it can muffle the movements and make the wait weeks longer.

Haven’t felt any fetal movement by the middle of month 5? Your practitioner may order an ultrasound to take a look at how your baby is doing. It could just be that your due date is off, which happens more often than you might think. But it's best to get it checked out just to be sure.

And if you’re wondering when you can feel your baby’s kicks from the outside, your partner (or other curious friends and family) will likely have to wait until the end of the second trimester or even the third trimester to feel fetal movements on your bump.

What do baby kicks feel like?

Baby’s kicking might feel like a flutter (like the “butterflies” you get when you’re nervous) or waves (as though a little fish is swimming in there, which is pretty much what's going on!). They could feel like a twitch, a nudge or even hunger pangs. Or maybe it’ll feel like a bubble bursting or that upside-down, inside-out feeling you get on a roller coaster. 

The feeling of baby kicking will continue to change throughout your pregnancy from choreographed movements at 6 months, to stronger punches and kicks at 7 months, to wriggling and turning as baby rapidly grows in months 8 and 9.

Keep in mind that babies are unique, and the rhythms and patterns of their activity will vary. Try not to compare your baby's movements with those of others or of your own previous children if you have any. 

When can you feel your baby move?

You will likely find that baby is more active when:

  • You've settled down for the night. During the day, the motion of your own body can lull her to sleep — and you're often focused on so many other things. When you're relaxed and more attuned to your body, you're more likely to notice what the baby is up to.
  • After you have a snack. The surge in your blood sugar may give your baby a rush of energy.
  • When you're nervous. Adrenaline can have the same effect and give your little one a boost of energy too.
  • When your baby has the hiccups. Have you sensed occasional little flutters of faint but rhythmic tics that last for a minute to an hour? Your baby probably has a harmless and perfectly normal case of the hiccups. Not having them is just as normal.

What does a super active baby in the womb mean?

Try not to jump to conclusions if your baby seems unusually active in the womb. It doesn't mean you'll have a hyper child later on or that your baby is destined to go pro as a soccer player.

Baby kicks — even those that are frequent and strong — are considered a normal and healthy part of fetal development. Think of it like an exercise routine, strengthening all of those developing muscles and bones before she makes her big debut.

You also might not realize how strong or often the average baby kicks. By the third trimester, you can expect to feel fetal activity every day — sometimes a lot of it! — despite the increasingly cramped confines in your womb. Some research even suggests that a baby’s legs can generate up to almost 11 pounds of force by 30 weeks! 

If your little drummer's bongo-playing on your belly starts to be more than you can take, try changing positions. Sit or lie down on your side. Your baby will likely change positions too and find something else to do. And if a foot (or feet) lodges into your ribs in the last few weeks of pregnancy, a gentle nudge, a shift in your position or a set of pelvic tilts might bring some relief.

You can even have a bit of fun with it: Starting at around month 8, you may be able to interact with your baby. Next time you see something protruding (a knee, perhaps, or a foot?), give it a gentle press. If the baby is game, you might see the limb get pulled back, then pushed out at you again.

How to Count Your Baby's Kicks

Kick counts

To ensure that everything is progressing as expected, your doctor will ask you for a “kick count,” or a tab on fetal movements, throughout the third trimester (starting in week 28 through the end of your pregnancy). Here’s how:

  • How often: Set aside some quiet time twice a day to do kick counts. Schedule one for the morning, when fetal kicks and punches tend to be less frequent, and one in the evening hours, when there's usually an increase in baby's movement.
  • What to do: Check the clock and start counting. Count movements of any kind (like kicks, flutters, swishes or rolls). Stop counting when you reach 10, and note the time.
  • Look for: 10 movements of any kind in an hour or less is normal, though sometimes it will take longer.
  • If you haven't felt 10 movements within an hour: Have a snack or some fruit juice, lie down and continue counting. If it takes more than two hours to reach 10, contact your practitioner. Although the absence of activity doesn’t necessarily mean something’s wrong, it can occasionally be a red flag that needs evaluation or monitoring.
  • Keep in mind: The closer you are to your due date, the more important regular kick counts become. By month 9, you’ll want to count several times a day, and get in touch with your practitioner if you note a sudden decrease in movement.

Baby’s movement right before labor

When your baby drops head-first down into the pelvis up to two to three weeks before delivery, activity patterns could change again. 

You'll feel, quite strongly, every turn of your baby's head. Fortunately, those little feet can no longer dig into your ribs.

Activity levels the last few weeks before delivery vary widely. Some babies move a bit less, but don't be surprised if yours keeps up an energetic pace until it's time for your face-to-face introduction. 

No matter what movements your baby breaks out for you during the last month of pregnancy, you should still feel your little one moving every day — and you should even continue to feel baby’s movements right before labor. If there's a noticeable decrease at any point, always check with your practitioner.

Decreased fetal movement

While it’s always good to be aware of your baby's punches, kicks and rolls throughout your pregnancy, there may be times when you feel changes in fetal movement, which are in most cases totally normal. Here's when you might notice decreased movement:

After sex

The rocking motion of sex and the rhythmic uterine contractions that follow orgasm often lull babies off to dreamland. Other babies become more active after sex. Either way, these changes are normal — and are in no way a sign that sex during pregnancy isn’t safe (as long as your practitioner hasn’t told you that you can’t have sex).

In the second trimester

Once you start feeling your karate kid's kicks and chops, don't panic if you go several hours — or even a day or two — without noticing any movement. At this stage and with your baby still quite tiny, it's normal not to feel regular movement. You may miss some of those dance moves because of the fetal position (facing inward, for instance, instead of outward) or because you’re sleeping right through the most active period at night.

In the third trimester

Your baby now has a fairly regular cycle of sleep and wakefulness. Sometimes a lull in activity just means deep slumber (and soon you'll appreciate that ability to sleep soundly). By month 9, however, it's crucial to note changes in activity. Count fetal movements a few times a day throughout your third trimester, and report any sudden decreases to your doctor.

In all these cases, you should be able to perk things up with a snack. If you don't feel 10 movements within two hours, contact your practitioner right away. He or she might bring you in for some monitoring just to make sure everything is okay.

Fetal movement is one of the hallmark signs of pregnancy — an exciting and very real signal of the life growing inside of you. So sit back, relax and enjoy. And don’t forget to do those kick counts come the third trimester!