Why This New Mom Is Reminding Pregnant People to Pay Attention to Their Baby’s Kicks
By Korin Miller | Originally Published September 28 on self | Featuring Dr. Sherry Ross
Many moms-to-be are hyper-aware of their baby’s kicks when pregnant. And, if you notice your baby is less active than usual, it’s tempting to write it off as just one of those things. But one new Oregon mom is urging women to trust their instincts when it comes to their baby’s movements. She did, and it saved her daughter’s life.
Ayla Heller wrote a lengthy Facebook post that’s gone viral, detailing what happened when she noticed her daughter Maddy was moving less than usual in the womb. Heller was 38 weeks pregnant at the time and says at first she just assumed her baby was having a “less active day.” She felt her baby readjust her position at some point, but it wasn’t until her boyfriend Dalton asked at 7 p.m. if the baby had been kicking that she realized Maddy hadn’t really moved all day.
Heller took a bath, drank some orange juice, and poked at her belly but still nothing. So Heller’s mom insisted that she call her midwife, who urged her to go to the hospital. Several tests later, Heller’s midwife was called to the hospital. “Upon my midwife[‘s] arrival, she wasted no time to inform me that things were not looking the way they wanted and I was most likely going to have an emergency cesarean that night,” Heller wrote. The couple was told that there were “life-threatening problems” with the baby and Heller was rushed to the operating room.
“I was given my spinal and before they could even get Dalton in the room they began the delivery,” Heller said. “She came out fine and cried a little bit, but she needed oxygen.” Heller was told that her placenta had aged prematurely, was calcified, “and had basically given up,” she said. This prevented Maddy from getting the oxygen and food needed. The baby was also trying to preserve her energy, which was why she had stopped moving.
However, she adds, things could have gone very wrong. If Heller hadn’t gone to the hospital that night, she says, she may have lost her baby. “Things like this DO happen,” she writes. “You know your body and what’s normal for your baby. And BABIES DON’T RUN OUT OF ROOM!! that was the common response I kept seeing. Babies will always kick [whether] there’s much room or not. IF YOU HAVE DOUBTS, GO IN. GO IN. GO IN. GO IN!!!“
Maddy had low blood sugar and needed an IV glucose drip for the first few days of her life but Heller says she’s otherwise fine. Today, Maddy is “doing great,” Heller tells SELF. “She is such a happy healthy baby. She loves to be held, cuddled, and loved—and, trust me, she is.”
Paying attention to your baby’s pattern of movement is crucial.
Part of the reason Heller wrote the post is to “to let people know that fetal movement shouldn’t stop,” she tells SELF. And it’s definitely important to pay attention to your baby’s regular movements so that you—like Heller—can tell if something is off, Christine Greves, M.D., a board-certified ob/gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, tells SELF. “I tell all of my patients to be aware of the baby’s movements and to make sure the baby is moving well,” she says.
In fact, fetal movement is so important that it’s often the first thing doctors ask about during prenatal visits, G. Thomas Ruiz, M.D., ob/gyn at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., tells SELF. “[Patients are] asked this question up until the baby is born,” he says. That’s partly because, as Geeta Sharma, M.D., an ob/gyn at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, tells SELF, “It tells us how well the placenta is working.” If a baby isn’t getting the nutrients it needs via the placenta, there may not be as much regular movement.
But that doesn’t mean the baby needs to be squirming around at all times. “The baby sleeps most of the day while growing inside the uterus,” Sherry Ross, M.D., an ob/gyn and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period., tells SELF. So you’ll often feel the most movement after meals, snacks, and at night.
But that doesn’t mean you have to be too intense about it.
If you’re over the age of 35 or have a health condition, such as gestational diabetes, you may qualify as a high-risk pregnancy. And, if you have a high-risk pregnancy, Jonathan Schaffir, M.D., an ob/gyn from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF that you may be instructed to perform kick counts.
That means you’ll count the number of kicks, jabs, and movements you feel in utero over the course of a few hours every day. It’s generally recommended that you see how long it takes to feel 10 kicks, Dr. Greves says—ideally you want to get 10 within two hours. But most people don’t start to feel consistent movements until around week 28 of their pregnancy, so Dr. Schaffir says you shouldn’t worry if you don’t feel regular kicks before then.
Even if you don’t have a high-risk pregnancy, you can do kick counts if it makes you feel more comfortable. But again, it’s not necessary for pregnancies that aren’t considered high risk. The only thing that’s essential for all pregnant people is to be aware in a more general sense of their baby’s movements.
Your baby should be active throughout your pregnancy.
That includes the weeks and days approaching your due date, at which point the movements may not be as intense, Dr. Schaffir says. “There’s less room for the baby to let go with a big kick or punch, but there should still be frequent rolling or squirming.” Dr. Greves agrees. “You may not feel them kick like they’re trying to kick a field goal, but you should still feel it.”
If you notice that your baby is less active than usual, Dr. Schaffir recommends drinking a big glass of water (dehydration can sometimes be a factor), sitting down, and really concentrating on the movements. You’ll often feel movement within 15 minutes, Dr. Ruiz says. But if you don’t feel anything within an hour or get fewer than eight kicks during that time, call your doctor.
If it’s after-hours, get to a hospital for a non-stress test. The test will monitor your baby’s heartbeat to see if they’re active and healthy. Your doctor may also request an ultrasound to look at the placenta, amniotic fluid, and fetal activity, Dr. Greves says.
But, as Heller warns, it’s crucial that you don’t simply write off your concerns. “If there is less movement it can sometimes be a sign that the placenta is not working well, there is low amniotic fluid, or a woman has pre-eclampsia,” Dr. Sharma says. Fetal movements are generally seen as a measure of a baby’s health, and a lack of movements can be an early sign that something is wrong—and sometimes dangerously wrong “If there is a sudden change, seek medical attention,” Dr. Greves says. “Don’t wait until tomorrow.”