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What Does Quickening Feel Like? Learn About First Fetal Kicks

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Medically reviewed by Kimberly Langdon, MD

What Do Early Pregnancy Flutters Feel Like

Feeling your baby move for the first time is a huge milestone. It’s the first real contact you have with your baby and a milestone that you’ll remember forever. It’s natural to wonder when it might happen and if you’ll know it when it does.  

Pregnancy is full of enough uncertainty, but unfortunately, there isn’t a concrete answer. Early pregnancy flutters may be very light sensations. They might be easily mistaken for gas, feel like butterflies in the stomach, or be attributed to other factors. You may feel those flutters as early as 16 weeks from the start of your last period, or it may not be until 20 or 22 weeks. 

Before long, though, your baby will be enthusiastically moving. You won’t be able to mistake it for anything else. 

What Do Early Pregnancy Flutters Feel Like?

Flutters may be the best way to describe it. The first stirrings of your baby’s movement is traditionally called ‘quickening.’ It’s described by some women as feeling like butterflies in the stomach or like gentle tickling. Others compared the feeling to a little bit of gas or twitching muscles.

It’s a difficult feeling to articulate and each woman experiences it differently. Other ways to describe the feeling include:

Soon after you feel those first flutterings, the movements may become more frequent. They also will become more forceful and harder to mistake for other factors. 

Waiting for those first movements can make for a suspenseful few weeks. That suspense is partly due to each baby developing slightly differently. There are many other factors as well, including some you may not expect. For example, you’re likely to notice movement earlier if you live someplace quiet. If you’ve been pregnant before, you’re also more likely to feel movement earlier. 

Also, remember that the 16 to the 22-week range is an average. Some moms-to-be will feel movement as early as 13 weeks, while others wait until week 25. As your baby develops, they’ll get larger and stronger. Flutterings you might have dismissed a week ago become unmistakably a kick or punch. You may even be able to identify the shape of a foot or hand. 

It might be easier to feel movement at some points in the day. You’re more likely to feel the movement after a meal or after drinking a cold beverage, both of which your baby can feel. You may also be more likely to feel movement late at night, between 9pm and 1am, when it is generally quieter. It is easier to feel or detect baby movement when you are inactive.  

What Is My Baby Doing?

Feeling those first flutterings is usually an eagerly anticipated moment. As gentle tickles become more forceful, it’s natural to wonder what your baby is doing that makes them so active. It may seem like they’re doing jumping jacks, or maybe some pilates before their big day. 

In a way, that’s not too far off the mark. At 16 weeks your baby is starting to move its little arms and legs in coordinated ways. These first movements are sometimes felt by the mother, but can also be detected on an ultrasound. 

Around 17 weeks into your pregnancy, you may notice more movement as your baby rolls over and becomes more active. 

At about 18 weeks, their ears may be developed and they may begin to hear. Soon after, at about 20 weeks, you may also notice a pattern to when your baby moves. They’ve begun to develop a sleep schedule, periods when they are more active and when they are resting. It’s about halfway through your pregnancy and it’s the point when it’s most common to begin feeling flutters.

It’s normal for your baby to take breaks or to shift position so that you don’t feel their movements as easily. The types of motion may also change as the baby develops and grows. 

Tracking Your Baby’s Movement

When you first feel your baby move, it will most likely be too light to feel all the time. They will come irregularly, as your baby finds the right spot to get your attention. As they grow larger, it’s easier for a baby to find that spot.

We’ve mentioned that eating, drinking, and the time of day can affect when your baby moves. However, there will be some broad patterns that you may notice. 

Some of that will be because of the pattern of your day. When you eat, sleep, and exercise might wake up your baby or put them to sleep. They’ll also do their own thing sometimes. Either way, when movement becomes more common, it can be helpful to track it.

Your doctor may begin asking you to track your baby’s movement at the end of your 2nd trimester, around week 28. It’s an easy way to keep track of what’s going on with your baby and can be an indicator of your baby’s development.

How To Track Your Baby’s Movements

The process for tracking your baby’s movements is pretty straightforward. 

  1. Set aside a few minutes 2 times every day. One should be in the morning, when your baby tends to be less active. The second should be in the evening, when your baby is more likely to be practicing their kung fu.
  2. Start a timer and settle in. Count each time you feel a kick, tickle, or whatever. When you have counted 10 movements, stop the clock and note how long it took.
  3. 10 movements in an hour or less is considered normal, though it may sometimes take longer.
  4. If you haven’t felt ten movements within an hour, drink something cold or eat a snack. Relax and start counting again.
  5. If you don’t count 10 movements within another hour, it’s time to get in contact with a healthcare provider. 

Of course, speaking with your doctor or practitioner when you have a worry is never really a bad idea.

As your pregnancy progresses, tracking your baby’s movement becomes more important. You may start tracking movement several times a day, instead of just twice. 

The moment when you feel the first flutter of movement is special. You’ll feel it after your baby begins to move their limbs in a more coordinated way, most likely sometimes after the 16-week mark. 

That feeling may seem like a tickle, twitch, or butterflies in your stomach. You may not be sure, at first, that you are feeling your baby move. However, before long your baby will have developed enough to make forceful motions that will be hard to miss.

Every parent has questions and the anxiety that goes along with them. If you’re ever unsure about something, contacting a healthcare professional is never a bad idea.

+ 4 sources

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  1. Watson, S. (2008). Feeling Your Baby Kick. [online] WebMD. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/baby/fetal-movement-feeling-baby-kick#1
  2. ‌https://www.facebook.com/WebMD (2000). Quickening, Sex and Other Pregnancy Things. [online] WebMD. Available at: https://www.webmd.com/baby/features/when-feel-baby-move
  3. ‌Mayo Clinic. (2020). Fetal development: What happens during the 2nd trimester? [online] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/fetal-development/art-20046151
  4. ‌DuBois, M. (2015). Anxiety in Early Pregnancy: 5 Things to Know to Keep the Worry Away | Atrius Health. [online] Atrius Health. Available at: https://blog.atriushealth.org/2015/05/anxiety-in-early-pregnancy-5-things-to-know-to-keep-the-worry-away/

Medically reviewed by:

Kimberly Langdon

Sean Newton has nearly ten years of experience as a health and fitness writer, focusing on diet and its effects on your health. He also is an avid athlete and martial artist, specializing in bodyweight exercises and movement training. Together with an evidence-based approach to good health, his goal is to lay out the facts for readers, so they can make informed choices.

Medically reviewed by:

Kimberly Langdon

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