Kick counts: in your pre-pregnancy days, this phrase may have sounded more like something from the latest fitness trend than a way to stay in tune with your baby. Counting kicks, however, can be an important part of your pregnancy that keeps tabs on baby’s well-being while also building a connection with your little one.
First thing’s first: what counts as a “kick” and when do they start?
For first-time moms in particular, kicks can initially be hard to identify. Some women describe them as feeling like butterflies in their bellies, or less romantically, gas or hunger pain. No matter how you characterize them, baby’s early movements are subtle. In the beginning of pregnancy, in fact, they are too small to feel at all.
By 18-20 weeks, that changes. As baby grows and develops, her movements become stronger and more detectable. First-time moms tend to take longer to identify the movements, while seasoned veterans often feel them sooner, even as soon as 13 weeks!
What constitutes a “kick”? Actual kicks, swishes, rolls, jabs, punches, and tumbles all apply. The only thing that doesn’t count, for the sake of kick counting, is baby’s hiccups (although they are ridiculously cute!).
What is kick counting?
Kick counting is exactly what it sounds like: the process of counting baby’s kicks over a specified amount of time to monitor baby’s movements and overall well-being. Kick counting helps you understand your baby’s patterns, so you can tell if anything changes that may be cause for concern. It’s so reliable, in fact, that a medical study states that “fetal movement counting and controlling can be used as a primary screening method to assess fetal health.”
While counting baby’s kicks is particularly important for high-risk pregnancies, experts agree that all moms-to-be should incorporate kick counting into their routines.
When should I start counting kicks?
The American Pregnancy Association recommends that women begin counting baby’s kicks around 28 weeks, once movements are strong and predictable. This gives most moms time to recognize baby’s routines and get used to identifying the sensations.
Once you start, try to count baby’s kicks around the same time each day. Determine when your baby is most active — often after meals, physical activity, or drinking something cold, or in the late evening — and set aside some time to slow down and connect with your little one.
Step-by-step guide to kick counting
1. Find a comfortable position in a quiet place. Most experts recommend lying on your left side, which increases circulation and (theoretically) baby’s activity. You can also sit in a well-supported position with your hands on your belly.
2. Listen to your body and your baby. Relax and tune into baby’s movements. This can include sitting quietly and relaxing, reading a book, watching a show, or talking to your partner.
3. Take note of baby’s movements. Every time you feel something, write it down in a notebook or kick count tracker (download the Tinyhood Kick Count Tracker for free here.) Make a check mark for every movement, no matter how small!
4. See how long it takes to get to 10 movements. Most moms will feel ten movements within an hour (or less), but it’s totally normal for it to take up to two hours. If you don’t feel ten movements in two hours, don’t panic; baby may just be sleeping. Wait a couple hours, drink something cold, eat a meal or take a walk, and try again. If you still don’t feel ten movements within two hours, call your care provider.
5. Repeat every day at the same time. Counting baby’s kicks every day at the same time and recording the results in your kick count tracker gives you a clear view into baby’s patterns. It’s also a great way to take some time off from “real life” and connect with your baby.
Final words on counting kicks
Kick counting is all about patterns. After a week or so, you should see some consistency in your log, whether it takes 15 minutes to get to ten kicks or an hour and change. Baby will get more active as your pregnancy progresses, which makes recognizing any changes to their patterns even more important. If you notice that your baby becomes less active in the final weeks of your pregnancy, call your provider right away.
Counting baby’s kicks gives you information about your little one while offering an opportunity to slow down and connect. Ask your provider if you have any questions about how to perform kick counts, patterns in your tracker, or what to look for in your baby. And remember that every baby and every pregnancy is different. By counting kicks, you gain a window into what’s normal for this baby, this time around.
For more information on kick counting and the full childbirth experience, check out our Childbirth 101 online class, which covers labor through postpartum (including how to count kicks!).
About our Expert
Ashley Derderian Sousa is a board-certified lactation consultant and registered nurse with nearly ten years of experience in labor, delivery, and postpartum units. Through approachable methods and open and honest philosophy, she believes each journey to becoming a parent is a personal one that should be met with self-compassion. She is currently completing a Masters of Health Education.