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Fetal movement count

Maternal pregnancy complications


Between weeks 16 and 20, an expectant mother may begin to feel fetal movements, but by week 24, the baby will be moving regularly and constantly.

Counting the movements of a baby – called fetal movement count (FMC) – is not recommended for all pregnancies. However, it’s a good idea for expectant mothers who do not have any risk factors to become aware of the movements of their babies from week 26 to the end of their pregnancies.


Decreased fetal movement can be caused by various factors.

The most common include:

  • When in the pregnancy it is
    While still active, a fetus often decreases movements around week 32 of gestation.
  • Daytime rhythms of the fetus
    Babies are more active in the evening.
  • Taking certain medications
    Narcotics and antidepressants can influence the baby’s movements.
  • Cigarettes
    Smoking reduces blood flow to the baby, temporarily reducing movement.

There are other factors that can influence how well an expectant mother can perceive the movements of her baby, such as the position of the placenta.

A small percentage of women do not feel the baby’s movements.

Symptoms to watch for

FMC is indicated for high-risk pregnancies or depending on a woman’s obstetric history.

Here are some examples:

  • Pre-existing diabetes or gestational diabetes needing insulin
  • High blood pressure
  • Placental abruption
  • Fetus having one or more defects
  • Restricted growth of the fetus
  • Previous fetal death
  • Decreased fetal movements during pregnancy

Tests and procedures

How to count fetal movements

If FMC is indicated, it should be done daily from week 26 until the end of the pregnancy.

It is best to count movements in the evening and in a quiet place in order to be able to focus on the movements, preferably in a semi-seated position or lying down on the left side.

Different methods are recommended for counting fetal movements. The one favored by CHU Sainte Justine is to count 6 movements over a maximum of 2 hours.

  • If you notice 6 movements well before the 2 hour period, your examination is finished.
  • If you do not notice 6 movements, an evaluation is necessary by phone or by going to the birthing unit of your hospital center.

Resources and useful links

  • No. 396-Fetal Health Surveillance: Intrapartum Consensus Guideline. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Canada, Vol 42, Issue 3 (March 2020), P316-348.E9.
  • Susan Mattson and Judy E. Smith. “Core Curriculum for Maternal-Newborn Nursing”. 4th edition, Saint-Louis, Saunders Elsevier, 2011.
  • Trohaino, Nan H et al. AWHONN High-risk & Critical Care Obstetrics. 3rd edition, Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.
Page by

Claudia Chavez, inf. clinicienne

About this page
Updated on 1/25/2021
Created on 1/25/2021
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