Getty / AleksandarNakic
One of the most rewarding parts of pregnancy happens when you feel a faint flutter for the first time. The sensation may come and go while you're dwindling your newborn checklist, but it's an important milestone.
So what is quickening in pregnancy, exactly? Doctors break it down so you can focus on finding the best baby registries to prepare for your little one.
The movement — known as quickening — doesn't feel like a full-blown kick, but it's enough to notice.
"Quickening refers to the first perception of fetal movements by the pregnant person," says Dr. Zeeshan Afzal, MD, and Welzo Medical Officer. "Quickening is the term used to describe the first noticeable movements of the fetus in the womb. It is often described as when a pregnant person can feel the baby's movements."
Your baby's flutters are an exciting time. But for some, it could trigger anxious feelings.
"It is a milestone in your pregnancy that can reassure you that your baby is healthy and growing," says Dr. Nisarg Patel, MBBS, MS - Obstetrics & Gynecology at Nisha IVF Centre. "Quickening usually happens around 16 weeks to 20 weeks of pregnancy, but some people may feel it sooner or later. It may feel like flutters, bubbles, taps or tiny pulses in your lower abdomen."
It might feel like you're growing a little gymnast, but it's a good sign the baby is growing.
"Your baby starts to move around eight weeks of pregnancy, but you won't feel it that early because they are still very small and surrounded by amniotic fluid," Patel says. "As your baby grows and develops muscles, bones, and nerves, their movements become stronger and more coordinated. Your baby can kick, stretch, roll and hiccup when you feel quickening."
"The sensation of quickening is subjective and can vary from person to person," Afzal says. "Initially, it may feel like butterflies fluttering or gas bubbles moving in the abdomen. Over time, the movements become more distinct and can be felt as kicks, punches or rolling sensations."
"Others say it feels like gas bubbles, muscle spasms, or a light tickle. The sensation may be subtle or obvious, depending on your body type, the position of your baby and placenta and how active your baby is."
Quickening is the first time you feel your baby move. Still, it is not the only fetal movement you will experience during your pregnancy — and it's only the beginning of more activity.
"As your baby grows bigger and stronger, their movements will become more frequent and noticeable," Patel says. "You may be able to see or feel your belly move when your baby kicks or turns. You may also notice different movement patterns depending on the time of day, what you eat or drink, or how you position yourself."
There is no clear answer as to when quickening becomes kicks. Some women feel a more pronounced movement soon after quickening, while others don't until much later.
"Quickening gradually evolves into more prominent and stronger movements, commonly called kicks," Afzal says. "As the baby grows and gains strength, the kicks become more pronounced and can be felt both internally by the pregnant person and externally by others who touch the pregnant belly."
"The timing of quickening can vary among individuals and pregnancies. Generally, first-time mothers may notice quickening between 18 to 25 weeks of pregnancy, while those with previous pregnancies may perceive it earlier, around 16 to 20 weeks. However, it's important to note that these timelines can vary, and some individuals may feel quickening even later in the pregnancy."
However, much of what determines feeling a distinct kick depends on your body type, the position of the baby and placenta, and how sensitive you are to movement.
"Women feel all sorts of fetal movements, not just from feet, but from stretching and bending of the baby in addition to arm and leg movements by the fetus," says Dr. Janice Lyon, MD FABOG FACOG and retired OBGYN.
"Different women use different words to describe fetal movements and there is no standard. Such words include butterflies, flickering, fluttering, bubbling, and many, many more!"
The duration of quickening is different for everyone. Some women experience the feeling every day until it transitions into kicking, while others feel flutters off and on through around 24 weeks.
"Try to find a comfortable position and time to focus on your baby's movement," Patel says. "You can lie on your side, sit in a recliner, or relax on a couch and count how many movements you feel in an hour. You can use a pen and paper, an app or a kick counter bracelet to keep track. A common method is to feel 10 movements in two hours."
Patel adds that a change in your baby's movement pattern or frequency doesn't necessarily mean trouble.
"Don't panic. Try changing your position, drinking water or juice, eating a snack, or playing music for your baby. If you still don't feel enough movement after an hour or two, call your doctor or midwife for advice."
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