Son touching pregnant mom's bellyShare on Pinterest
Jennifer Bogle/Stocksy United

Some days, you may feel like a human punching bag turned inside out — with the kicks, punches, and head butts coming from the little one in your womb. You wonder: Is this normal? The kicking may lead you to believe that you’ll be raising a soccer star.

Even if your pregnant sister-in-law or BFF report no such intensity, rest assured that your experience is very within the realm of normal. Let’s look at what it may mean.

The fetal movements you feel are an indication that your baby is growing both in size and strength. Research, including this 2016 study, shows that pregnant people can be highly attuned to their baby’s activity, including:

  • frequency of movement (less or more often than expected)
  • intensity of movement (weaker or stronger than expected)
  • duration of movement (shorter or longer than expected)
  • character of movement (a change of pattern — slower or faster than expected)

If your baby is very active, your friends and family may repeat urban legends, such as an active baby results in a smart, boisterous, or athletic child. These claims are largely unfounded.

Your doctor, however, will most likely explain that, to promote healthy bone and joint development, your baby needs to exercise. So this activity is probably normal and healthy movement — not an indicator of the person the baby will grow up to be.

Chances are they’ll also tell you that there’s no such thing as too active a baby in utero, and that as your pregnancy progresses, your baby will tend to grow and become even more active.

Periods of higher activity

Babies are often more active at certain times of day, such as after you’ve eaten a meal or when you’re lying down in bed. (In contrast, your movement — such as a walk around the block — can lull them to sleep.)

And, if your stomach is full (and taking up more room), you might be able to feel that movement even more.

Every pregnancy is different

Remember that no two pregnancies are exactly the same. Friends and family members may have stories about their pregnancies and compare the activity level of their babies to yours. Or in a previous pregnancy, you might not have experienced the same level of activity.

All babies are different, but in most cases, an active baby is a healthy baby.

Feeling your baby’s first gentle kick can be a wonderfully exciting moment, but after a while, the kicks can sometimes be surprisingly forceful.

Many people don’t realize how strong a baby in the womb can be. A 2018 report estimated that fetuses kick with up to 6.5 pounds of force at just 20 weeks. At 30 weeks, their legs can generate up to 10.5 pounds of force. At 35 weeks, the force drops off to 3.8 pounds of force as your baby starts running out of space.

And, while this kicking is going on, by 15 weeks, your baby is also punching with their little limbs and moving their head.

By your third trimester, your healthcare provider will most likely have you monitoring your baby’s movements.

Your doctor may suggest kick counting: counting the number of kicks your baby makes in a certain time period (typically 10 minutes). This should be done at the same time every day so you can monitor changes in activity.

There’s no set number of kicks you should feel. Once you’ve set up a baseline of how many kicks to expect during that period, you can discuss any increase or decrease in activity with your doctor.

If your active baby becomes less active, tell your doctor. A decrease in fetal movement may indicate a potential problem that your doctor should address early.

A 2020 study of pregnant women who sought care for reduced fetal movement indicated that the poor neonatal outcome (particularly stillbirth) ranged from 6.2 percent to 18.4 percent within different groups.

The highest incidence was among women in the groups with small-for-gestational-age fetuses. The study recommended a routine ultrasound assessment for fetal growth during the third trimester.

Bottom line: If you aren’t able to feel fetal movement after 22 weeks, or if you experience a decrease in fetal movement any time in your third trimester, talk with your doctor. Your baby may still be healthy, but you may need additional monitoring.

As your pregnancy progresses, you’ll typically feel your baby move. Generally, an active baby is a healthy baby. The movement is your baby exercising to promote healthy bone and joint development.

All pregnancies and all babies are different, but it’s unlikely that lots of activity means anything other than your baby is growing in size and strength.

By your third trimester, your doctor will probably have you kick counting to monitor the level of your baby’s activity. If after 22 weeks you don’t feel movement, your doctor may suggest additional monitoring.