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Decreased fetal movement is a drop-off in fetal activity that may occur naturally later in pregnancy but could be a cause for concern. Patients who notice changes in fetal activity can discuss them with their obstetricians to determine if they need evaluation or monitoring. It is important to be aware that this can occur naturally, and that if it is the sign of a problem, catching it early can increase the chances of getting adequate treatment. Sometimes there may be no special treatment available, and there may be nothing the parents could have done to prevent a problem with the pregnancy.
Doctors may advise their pregnant patients to use kick counting in pregnancy. While this term refers specifically to kicking movements, patients are encouraged to generally log all fetal activity. They should take note of activity patterns, particularly periods when the developing fetus is more active. This information can help to establish a normal baseline for the pregnancy, which can help if decreased fetal movement occurs.
In 10% of pregnancies, decreased fetal movement occurs with no ill effects. In other pregnancies, it can indicate that something is going wrong. The fetus may slow down due to lack of oxygen, suggesting that there is a circulation problem. Decreased fetal movement can also occur in the days before a fetal death, which may be the result of a congenital abnormality or another problem the expecting mother could not have anticipated. If the pregnancy results in a miscarriage or stillbirth, patients can ask the doctor for testing to find out what happened and determine if there is anything they can do for future prevention.
Patients who notice that their developing fetuses appear to be less active may want to consider lying down and focusing on fetal movement for two to three hours. It can help to pick a period when the fetus is normally active, and to try stimulating the fetus with activities known to cause reactions in the past. If the fetus doesn't move at all or seems unusually slow, the mother should report the decreased fetal movement to her doctor.
The doctor can perform a physical examination and may recommend an ultrasound to check for any problems. If the decreased fetal movement is indicative of a medical issue, it may be possible to provide treatment, such as decompressing the umbilical cord to address a lack of adequate blood supply. This may be done by asking the mother to change position. The doctor can also provide supplementary oxygen to boost fetal activity, and may recommend bed rest if there are concerns about the health of the pregnancy.