Have you noticed your baby moving around more and more as your due date approaches? It may seem like an alarming amount of increased movement before labor, but many pregnant women experience this! This blog post will walk you through why this is the case and what you might expect as you prepare to bring baby into the world. Whether it’s your first child or fourth, understanding these movements can help put both yours and baby’s mind at ease. Read on for a better insight into the trends surrounding increasing fetal activity in the weeks leading up to delivery day!
But first, how do I know all of this? Hi — I’m Hilary — The Pregnancy Nurse 👩⚕️. I have been a nurse since 1997 and I have 20 years of OB nursing experience, I am also the curly head behind Pulling Curls and The Online Prenatal Class for Couples. 🩺 I have talked to thousands of women in labor about their baby’s fetal movement patterns, so I’m a great one to talk this one over with you.
Yes, labor is super confusing — which is why I 100% recommend taking one of these. I think mine is the best, and I guarantee it’s the cheapest. Kind of a double win. 🙂
This (or any article on The Pregnancy Nurse) should be taken as medical advice, this purely educational. Please talk with your provider about your specific needs and circumstances. It’s always a good idea to keep track of your pregnancy progress and any changes that you notice with baby’s movements. If you’re ever concerned about a sudden decrease or increase of activity, be sure to talk to your doctor or midwife right away.
Ok, let’s dive into fetal movement in those last few weeks before your due date.
Is there increased fetal movement before labor?
Speaking from experience talking to LOTS of women in labor, many report this. I actually can’t find any actual studies on this. It’s hard, because if you’re feeling this, and you’re close to your due date there is a good chance that you will got into labor soon (simply a numbers game). Kind of like how eating eggplant parm will put you into labor.
There are a few reasons why people may feel more movement before labor begins — and we’ll go into all of that.
Why might I feel more movement before labor?
There are a few reasons why you may feel more fetal movement before labor begins:
A Watched Uterus
You may be taking the time to really think about any contractions or pains that you’re having. When concentrating more on your body you’re also likely to feel more fetal movement. Also, people tend to just have less activity those last few weeks (for good reason — you’re miserable!), so you just feel more because you’re more still.
As baby gets closer to being born it will shift down into the birth canal (many people call this lightening). It may also rotate. All of these things are changes in their positioning which may mean that you feel it more than you used to. I have a whole post about baby lowering into your pelvis around 37 weeks.
Also, as baby makes the move down into the pelvis they may be moving a bit more as they settle in. Sort of like when you’re trying to find a comfy position in bed you shimmy a bit. 🙂
The uterus is getting stretched to capacity. A uterus that is hitting max capacity is one of the signs your body takes that it’s time to release the oxytocin and go into labor. But, with baby being so cramped you may feel more than you felt before.
I swear my baby was in there doing full cheerleader kicks, but they come out and just make the smallest shifts. Turns out, I just felt #allthethings in there!
And, baby may be pushing into your cervix as well, so you’ll start to feel head movements on that (and they may make your mucus plug dislodge, and you may to start to dilate from this). All of that is normal labor stuff.
Ruptured Amniotic Sac
If your water is broken you’ll feel more of the baby moving. No longer will the amniotic fluid cushion their every move in your womb — you’ll be feeling all those things.
Remember that water breaking can come out as a gush or a trickle, so if you have any question as to if your water is broken please do call your provider.
Towards the end you might start to think/hope everything is a sign of labor. Baby sure seems to be moving more…. maybe labor is coming?
What is the significance of increased baby movement before labor begins?
It could show that baby has lowered into the birth canal (some people say “dropped” but I don’t like to use that word around babies). It is all a very normal flow of labor and baby’s progression into the birth canal as the weeks of pregnancy are finishing.
A sudden increase in fetal movement can mean several things. It could be a sign that labor is approaching, or it could simply be a sign that baby is having an active day and is feeling comfortable inside the uterus.
Most often, in the healthcare community, we’re huge fans of fetal movement — it shows that baby is growing and thriving.
There have been a few studies that showed that sudden BIG changes in fetal movement could be associated with poor outcomes.
This one showed that excessive fetal movements could be associated with a larger baby (also known as LGA — Large for gestational age).
This one, however showed no risk between sudden increased fetal movement and poor fetal outcomes.
If you feel sudden large changes in fetal movement that last longer than a few moments — you may want to call your provider and just see what they think.
Remember, fetal movement is your best indicator of fetal well-being!
Does a very active baby mean labor is near?
Not always. Sometimes it’s the sign of a good meal, or baby just nestling in. It could be one of the signs that we watch for — but remember there are a LOT of labor signs (and they usually come in packs vs just one at a time).
As a nurse who has monitored a LOT of babies, many babies move most when you’ve eaten a meal or drink ice cold water (because they can feel the cold water through the thinning uterine wall).
What are some common signs that labor may be starting soon?
In addition to increased fetal movement before labor, there are other signs and symptoms that labor may be starting soon. These can include regular labor contractions, nausea or diarrhea, your water breaking, an increase in vaginal discharge, or loss of your mucus plug. If you experience any of these signs and symptoms prior to 37 weeks gestation, it is especially important to contact your healthcare provider right away.
In all reality false labor (often called Braxton Hicks Contractions) vs true labor can really only be decided once you’re in active labor. Contractions can come and go for a while before you really get into a pattern and you know that labor has begun. It’s definitely confusing — not as clear cut as most people think it will be.
How can you tell if your baby’s movements have changed significantly and whether or not it’s time to call your doctor or midwife?
First and foremost, it’s important to get to know what is considered normal for your baby in terms of their movements.
I am a HUGE advocate of fetal kick counts, which are done daily and you slowly get very used to what your baby is doing. You know it normally takes 20 minutes or so to get those 10 kicks — so, when baby gives you 10 kicks in 1 minute, or it takes 1 hour to get those 10 kicks you know something might be up. A good time to call your provider.
If you’re not sure how to do them, this podcast explains it so well (and shares a lot of the benefits).
I also think that kick counts provide a great time to bond and dream about life with baby. So often we just go about our day when in reality there’s a little person in there who you’re going to love for the rest of your life. It’s time to spend a few minutes together every day. Bonus points if someone else cleans up the house while you do those kick counts. 🙂
In general, providers are more concerned about reduced fetal movement the most. If you’re not feeling baby move you want to make sure you’ve eaten something (balancing some carbohydrates and some protein is best), and drink a big glass of ice water. If you’re not feeling anything after that call your provider.
Whenever there is a sudden change or decrease in fetal activity, it may be time to call your healthcare provider. In addition, be sure to keep track of any other signs and symptoms that could indicate labor is approaching so you can alert your doctor or midwife right away if needed.
Pro Tip: We often get moms who haven’t eaten or drank any water all day coming in saying their baby hasn’t moved. We take every case of decreased fetal movement VERY seriously at the hospital, but eating and drinking something often perks baby right up. It’s a good thing to do while you’re calling your provider or getting ready to go to the hospital — hopefully you’ll feel your baby after that (but don’t delay coming in to cook something, eat something fast).
This is why it’s awesome to make sure you’re eating and drinking well every day of your pregnancy so care isn’t delayed by needing to do that.
When should you go to the hospital or birthing center if you think you’re in labor but aren’t sure yet?
If you think you might be in labor but aren’t sure, it’s always a good idea to contact your healthcare provider. They will be able to assess the situation and advise whether or not it is time to go to the hospital or birthing center. In general, you should head to the hospital or birthing center when contractions become regular, pain is increasing, or your water has broken.
Pro tip: It is WAY easier to be seen or place a call into your provider vs going to the hospital. There is just SO much less paperwork for them to talk with you. However, labor and delivery is opened every hour of every day all year, so if you ever feel like you need to be seen ASAP they’re an awesome resource, and that’s why they’re there.
And yes, pro tips like that one are found all over the place in here.
Will baby continue to move during labor?
Most people feel baby’s movement change during labor, but you should still be able to feel your baby move while you are in labor.
Most people can still even feel it with the epidural (although, as you expect, it is different at that point).
So keep making sure that baby is moving well, even right before baby is born (somehow those movements are even more precious because you know they’ll be some of your last ones). Your nurses will ask you during your labor if baby is moving as well. It gives them peace of mind as well.
If you’re overdue, what are some ways to induce labor naturally without risking the health of you or your baby?”
Beyond medical ways of inducing the baby there aren’t too many studies of things you can start now to get baby out. There is a study on how dates taken in the last weeks of pregnancy can help speed labor along (but they don’t start labor).
I do have a whole little guide all about how to go into labor. It explains how labor starts (how your body decides it’s time) and what you can do to encourage it to get there.
Ok, that’s fetal movement and how it relates to labor. I can’t tell you what a FAN I am of fetal movement. I want to do cheerleader kicks when I hear baby is moving well. It’s just reassuring to everyone.
Speaking of reassuring, knowing what to expect in the labor is the QUEEN of reassurance — so come join me in The Online Prenatal Class for Couples where we prepare you from bump to bassinet for your upcoming birth. I can’t wait to see you in there!
You may think it’s too late, but you can easily do the online course in just a few hours. Many people easily do it in a weekend, and even enjoy it!
And, if you’re not quite sure you’re ready for that whole thing (but seriously, what are you waiting for????), check out my free prenatal class. It’s your first step toward getting in the driver’s seat of your birth.
- About the Author
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A nurse since 1997, she has worked in various fields including pediatrics, geriatrics & hospice.
She has 20 years of labor and delivery experience in the San Jose, CA and Phoenix, AZ areas.