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What Is Fetal Movement?

During the third trimester, fetal movement is very strong.
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  • Written By: Kim Denise Walton
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 10 March 2014
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It is the moment every expectant mother waits for: the first noticeable movement of a baby, the first sign of life, sometimes referred to as the “quickening." Movement of the fetus typically begins as early as seven to nine weeks after conception and can be felt by the mother between 16 and 22 weeks after conception. Fetal movement typically includes flexing, stretching, kicking and punching.

Fetal movement can be easily mistaken by first-time expectant mothers as gas or mere stomach gurgling. In time, the fetal movement will be distinguishable. Expectant mothers are most aware of fetal movement when they are sitting serenely or lying down.

During the first portion of a pregnancy, somewhere around the ninth week, the fetus is moving almost constantly. The mother might not be aware of this movement, because the fetus is less than one inch (2.5 cm) long and weighs less than one ounce (28 g). At this juncture, fetal movement can be seen only during an ultrasound examination. By the 11th week, movement has increased, and the fetus is approximately two inches (5 cm) long. At this time, the baby also is kicking, and some mothers might actually feel a punt or two.

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During the second trimester of pregnancy, fetal movement is stronger, the muscles have lengthened and are organized, and the expectant mother should be feeling flutters. By the 16th week or so, the fetus is approximately five inches (12.7 cm) long and weighs more than three ounces (84 g). Not only is the fetus kicking, but some of the fetal movement might be attributed to the fetus doing an actual somersault. By the 19th week, fetal movement should be evident to the expectant mother. Doctors might ask the mother to note any movement in order to track the development of the fetus.

During the third and final trimester of pregnancy, fetal movement is quite strong. The constant movement might even be slightly disruptive to the expectant mother when she is attempting to rest. By the time the fetus has reached 32 weeks, it will weigh approximately four pounds (1.8 kg), and movement will increase tremendously because of the “cramped” quarters that the fetus is experiencing.

There is a plethora of fetal movement going on at this stage of the pregnancy. The fetus has developed hearing and can move to the beat of music or the sound of a familiar voice. Additionally, the fetus might develop hiccups that will be felt by the expectant mother as rhythmic little taps.

Scientists who follow the fetus' daily life find that the human fetus moves 50 times or more each hour, flexing and extending its body, stretching and moving. Using technologically advanced equipment, psychologists at Johns Hopkins University have even noted odd movement by fetuses. These movements include a fetus using its tongue to lick the uterine wall or "walking" around the womb by pushing off with its feet.

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