First flutters, pint-size punches and itty bitty baby kicks have to be some of the most incredible sensations that come with pregnancy. However, it can be a little alarming (and downright terrifying) when phantom kicks occur from within when you are not pregnant (or, at least, you didn’t think you are).
Countless mums experience phantom kicks – the distinctive sensation that a baby is kicking from within – long after they’ve given birth. But why? Could they be pregnant without realising it? Or is something else going on?
What are phantom kicks?
Phantom kicks are the sensation of a baby kicking in your womb when you’re not actually pregnant.
There are a few reasons why you could be feeling phantom kicks after having a baby. If you have given birth in the past few months, then it may simply be the sensation of your uterus contracting, which is often mistaken for baby kicks.
“Because the uterus can take several months to return to its previous state a mother may experience the sensation of kicks for long periods following pregnancy,” Dr Nick Petrovic, Head of Clinic at the Mind Profile Psychology Clinic explains.
Another theory is that the stretching of your belly and uterus during pregnancy ramps up the growth of nerve receptors. It could be that these receptors think they’re still feeling movement – the same way that someone who’s has lost a limb still feels phantom limb pain.
Or it could just be that as mums, we’re really attuned to what’s happening in our bellies. During pregnancy we became hyper-aware of every movement in our wombs, and now we sense every little niggle. So gas movement or pain that we probably would have usually ignore or not even felt before carrying a baby is now something we notice.
How long do phantom kicks last?
These strange sensations can continue long after you’ve given birth, sometimes even years. An Australian study into phantom kicks found that almost 40 percent of women experienced the sensation for an average of almost seven years after their first pregnancy. One woman continued to have phantom kicks for 28 years.
Again, the reason comes down to your uterus. During pregnancy, women become aware of different twitches and movements in and around the uterus. These movements have always been there, but that we never took notice of them before.
“A woman tends to pay very close attention to these sensations during pregnancy. This habit can follow on into postpartum experiences,” Dr Petrovic says.
The feelings inside your uterus play a pretty important role in your mind (after all, these kicks are quite memorable). For many mums, these kicks can affect the likelihood of muscle memory and nerve memory long after the baby is born.
There’s also another theory – proprioception. It’s the body’s awareness or perception of its own movement and position. For example, it’s why we’re able to walk without needing to really think about it. Researchers think that is why our nerves are still registering baby kicks, even though we’re not pregnant anymore.
Is there any reason to worry about phantom kicks?
While feeling random phantom kicks for years after giving birth is normal, the Australian study says it may have implications for a woman’s postpartum mental health.
For instance, the phantom kick sensation could be related to pseudocyesis – a false pregnancy. A woman has all the signs and symptoms of pregnancy – kicks, fatigue, nausea even swollen breasts, but is not actually pregnant. However, this condition is pretty rare.
What are other causes of phantom kicks?
Chrissy Teigen has revealed she still experienced movements inside her belly, after suffering a miscarriage. She even uploaded a video showing her belly moving in a similar way to when a baby kicks, saying, “I truly feel kicks in my belly, but it’s not phantom. I have surgery for endometriosis tomorrow … but the period feeling this month is exactly like baby kicks. sigh.”
look at this 😩 I’ll pretend it’s him saying hi – it never stops. pic.twitter.com/5FKSE3g8cG
— chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) February 3, 2021
So, there you go – while some of the superpowers that we develop during pregnancy (like a heightened sense of smell and extra shiny hair) disappear once bub is out, our hyper-sensitive uterus can remain with us for years and years to come.
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