What It Means When Your Baby Is Kicking Up A Storm

Photographed by Ashley Armitage.

Sure it’s exciting when you first feel your baby’s odd little pokes and prods, which can happen any time from 18 to 25 weeks. But after experiencing a few weeks of in utero MMA training, you may be left more curious, or bothered, than psyched. What’s really going on in there and does it have to be happening now?

However, even if you find that your baby is a little, ahem, aggressive, that’s truly a good thing, says Silvana Ribaudo, MD, an Ob/Gyn at NewYork-Presbyterian and Columbia University Medical Center. “Active babies are healthy,” she explains, and even intense kicking should be interpreted as a reassuring sign.

In fact, it’s more worrying if a baby isn’t kicking, she says. That’s why pregnant people are asked specifically about kicking during their checkups. And, in the months leading up to birth, your doctor may ask you to perform “kick counts” in which you monitor how often your baby kicks during a certain period of time. Although different doctors may disagree about the exact amount of time to pay attention and the amount of kicks that are healthy, “the bottom line is the patient has to regularly be in tune with her baby,” Dr. Ribaudo says. You don't want to make yourself anxious monitoring each movement, but you want to have a sense of when things change. Some people use apps to do detailed counts; others prefer to simply notice the pattern of their fetus' acrobatics.

"Some are more active when the mom’s hungry and blood sugar drops,” Dr. Ribaudo says, while other people notice more movement in the evening after dinner. Others report more kicking after exercising, not drinking enough water, or having a bit of caffeine. And loads of moms report off-the-charts baby kicking at bedtime or in the middle of the night. Of course, it’s possible you’re simply paying more attention to the kicks when you’re finally lying down to rest — and anyway, these bouts of wakefulness are great training for the newborn phase that's to come.

The bottom line is the patient has to regularly be in tune with her baby.
Silvana Ribaudo, MD

The position of the placenta can also affect the intensity of fetal movements, Dr. Ribaudo says. If the placenta is anterior, meaning it’s between the fetus and your stomach, that may dampen the feeling of those kicks. It’s also more common for pregnant people to report more movement in their second babies (and beyond) than they felt with their first, possibly because they’re better attuned to noticing it.

So, in general, having a kick-happy fetus isn’t something to be worried about — and there’s not much you can do to calm it down anyway. However, if you notice any sudden changes in your baby’s kicking habits (especially if you notice them stop), check in with your doctor.

Dr. Ribaudo says she may give her patients in this situation some nutrition counseling to find a connection between their meals and their baby’s kicking. Your doctor may suggest drinking some water and laying down on your left side for 30 minutes to try to stir up some movement. If that doesn’t help, it’s really time to go in for a check. Otherwise, do your best to take the kicks (and punches) as they come — and maybe even enjoy them.

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