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The importance of fetal movement: nothing can replace a mother’s instinct

Posted: 18/10/2017


This week Penningtons Manches is aiming to raise awareness of stillbirth in support of the charity ‘Tommy’s’, which funds research into miscarriages, stillbirths and premature births. This article investigates why foetal movement is so important and why it is crucial for mothers to follow their instincts about the safety of their babies.

What is fetal movement?

Fetal movement describes anything from a kick or a flutter to a roll. It is a useful tool for mothers to gauge how their baby is feeling and should occur throughout the pregnancy from as early as 16 weeks, but usually by 24 weeks. It is a common myth that babies move less leading up to birth, but this is not the case. According to advice by the NHS, ‘you should continue to feel your baby move right up until the time you go into labour and whilst you are in labour too’. It is also recommended that expectant mothers get familiar with their baby’s specific patterns of movement. A link to the NHS official guidance on fetal movement can be found here.

Reduction in movement

A reduction in movement can signal that the baby is not well and that medical intervention is needed. According to research, roughly half of all mothers who had a stillbirth noticed that their baby’s movements had decreased or stopped.

Importantly, parents should not rely on at-home dopplers or mobile phone apps which are marketed to measure a baby’s heartbeat. These are not reliable ways to listen to and monitor your baby and are no replacement for thorough medical checks. Additionally, unless you are medically trained it is easy to confuse the pulsing of the placenta with the baby’s heartbeat. Giving parents a false sense of security could stop them from going to their local labour ward, and could lead to the loss of the baby’s life. For more information on this issue, click here

Kicks Count

The charity ‘Kicks Count’ has designed a wristband which helps you measure how often your baby kicks and to get used to their particular pattern of kicking.

What do I do?

If you experience a reduction in fetal movement, it is important to contact your midwife or local maternity unit as soon as possible. Do not wait until the next day to be seen. The procedure in this situation will be as follows: 

  • you will be asked about your baby’s movements specifically, so try to record the movement you have experienced recently and how active the baby was;
  • the size of your bump will be measured along with a full antenatal check-up; and
  • your baby’s heart rate will be checked using a CTG (usually for at least 20 minutes). 

Importantly, you should not allow yourself to be discharged if you have further concerns about your baby’s movement. There is no such thing as a stupid question or concern – “you are not being a nuisance”, say Tommy’s.

Errors in care

Sadly, there are still situations where the care that is given to expectant mothers falls below the appropriate standard. Often these are human errors, such as incorrect measuring of your bump. This is why it is crucial for parents to be aware of the importance of fetal movements and to refuse to allow any concerns they have to be dismissed.

Amy Milner, a senior associate in the clinical negligence team who specialises in birth injury claims, says: “Our team has a great deal of experience acting for parents who have received sub-standard care in their pregnancies. If you have any questions about the care you or a loved one have received, please get in touch. We may be able to assist you by obtaining an apology from the healthcare provider or compensation for your pain and suffering.”


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