Why Do Babies Kick In The Womb?
A pregnant mother feels her baby’s kicks for the first time, between 18-22 weeks of pregnancy. This is termed as quickening. It's the most wonderful feeling a pregnant woman can experience.
These kicks are one of the most important part of baby's movements in the mother’s womb. These kicks are required for healthy growth of baby's bones and joints. Though baby’s movements and kicks are seen on an ultrasound scan even before quickening happens, they are felt by the mother only when they grow to a certain size, i.e. when they are between 18 to 22 weeks old. An ultrasound scan helps us visualise all kinds of movements, such as kicking, rolling, punching, flexion and extension movements of the arm and legs, stretching, hiccupping, yawning, thumb-sucking, and breathing. Not all baby-movements are felt by the mother, only movements like kicking, rolling, punching and occasional hiccups can be felt by the mother. Babies either sleep or exercise in the womb, kicking is an exercise for them. It not only keeps them healthy, but is also important for the growth and development of their bones and joints. Any restriction of foetal movement in the womb, especially due to amniotic bands and uterine anomalies, leads to congenital disorders, such as shortened joints, limb defects and fragile bones. The amniotic sac is like a private swimming pool, or a large Jacuzzi for the baby to kick or move around, and the baby enjoys doing so. It's the fluid media that helps the baby kick and move effortlessly in the womb. It’s seen that boys move more in the womb than girls. The intensity of the kicks felt by the mother depends on two factors- (other than the size of the baby) laxity of the abdomen, and the thickness of the abdominal wall. For example, the mother feels the movements of her second child more than those of her first one, because the abdominal muscles become lax after the first pregnancy, due to stretching and loss of elasticity and tone of the rectus muscles. Fewer, feeble and delayed experience of foetal movements is also seen in mothers who are obese or who have thick abdominal wall. Babies move in response to what’s happening in the environment around the mother. Too much sound or noise, light or even certain food items can stimulate your baby into kicking and moving. Babies also need to stretch and move for relaxation. If the mother moves around, it can sooth the baby, they often feel relaxed and even go to sleep. The average number of kicks and other movements per day are about 15-25. Every baby is different, and so are their movement patterns. Some babies literally sleep all day and move at night or vice versa, whereas others move during day, as well as, at night. Babies rest or sleep in the womb for as many as 18 hours a day, usually at an interval of 45-50 minutes. Most pregnant women notice an increase in activity- after meals, while they are active, and during the evening time. The mother should feel a minimum of 10 to 20 good movements in a day. Experiencing less than 10 good movements in a day is a warning sign which the mother needs to take note of. A mother can assess foetal well-being by counting her baby’s movements. Reduced or no movement in response to external stimuli like noise stimulation, tactile stimulation on the mother’s tummy, or vocal stimulation by known voices like the mother's or father's voice or gradual decrease in the baby’s movements for more than one or two consecutive days, are all warning signs. Reduced movements mean that the baby is not getting enough oxygen or nutrients or space to move. If the mother is educated on how to count and assess foetal movements, then the mother becomes the best and most reliable monitor. To summarise, baby’s kicks and movements in the womb are vital for the proper growth and development of the baby’s bones and joints, after he or she is born! Dr Kavitha Lakshmi Easwaran is a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at Motherhood Hospitals, Bangalore.