Study finds baby kicking at night is a good sign

Study finds baby kicking at night is a good sign

For expecting mums heading into the home stretch, knowing what’s normal when it comes to baby’s movements has just become easier. A new study has revealed what’s normal baby movement in the final trimester, including debunking advice to drink something cold to get bubs to move.

The University of Auckland-led study has discovered that it’s normal for babies in utero to swing into party mode when the sun goes down.

New information in pregnancy baby movements

pregnant woman sleeping with hands on her belly

The researchers found that it’s completely normal in late pregnancy for babies to be more active in the evening and when mumma is trying to go to sleep (surprise, surprise!). And despite what some mums-to-be are told, the study found that movements tend to keep getting stronger as the pregnancy heads to the final stages.

“Pregnant women are often advised to keep an eye on their baby’s movement pattern and report any decrease in movements,” explained lead author, Billie Bradford.

“But, even though there is a link between decreased movements and stillbirth, most women who report a drop in activity will go on to have a healthy baby. The problem is, there is limited evidence about what normal patterns of movement look like, and around the world women are getting mixed advice. We thought this would be useful information, particularly for first-time mothers who are getting to know what a normal pattern is for them.”

Ms Bradford said that while we may be winding down at night, it’s an active time for babies, so a lack of movement at night, “warrants an urgent check-up”.

What the results tell us

Pregnant woman feeling baby move

The researchers interviewed women who were in their 28th week of pregnancy or later, asking them how often their babies moved and when. They then analysed the responses of those women who went on to have live babies after 37 weeks. This is what they discovered:

  • Strong movements were felt by most women in the evening (73 per cent) and at night-time including bedtime (79 per cent)
  • Women were more likely to perceive moderate or strong movements when sitting quietly compared with other activities, such as having a cold drink or eating
  • Almost all women reported feeling their babies hiccup

“Probably the most surprising finding was just how profound an influence time of day was – only 3.7 per cent of women did not feel strong or moderate movements in the evening,” says Mrs Bradford.

“Pregnant women have always reported more baby movements in the evening. This is often put down to distraction and being busy during the day, but that may not be the whole story. A number of ultrasound and animal studies have shown that the fetus has a circadian pattern that involves increased movement in the evening, and this is likely to reflect normal development.”

Researchers also compared the number of movements counted versus the patterns of baby movements. “It’s clear that the pattern of movement is more consistent across pregnant women than the number of kicks – which varies widely between women, from four to 100 an hour,” said senior author, Professor Lesley McCowan.

So, what does it mean?

The researchers say the message for mums-to-be is that increased baby movement at night is perfectly normal. It’s also recommended that if bub is moving less often, less strongly or not moving in the evening as they normally would, don’t wait until the next day to seek medical advice.

“It may be an antisocial hour for adults, but it is a social hour for the fetus (and incidentally the newborn), so lack of movement at that time warrants an urgent check-up,” says Mrs Bradford. “As a midwife, I find it especially gratifying to see evidence emerge that pregnant women’s own knowledge of their baby provides valuable insights into fetal wellbeing.”

The team of researchers is now working to develop a tool that assesses the quality of a baby’s movements in utero, which includes circadian pattern.

Read next …

Wondering what else is ‘normal’ in the third trimester? These next articles delve into common questions so many expecting mums are asking: