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Notes on Women's Health
Notes on Women's Health

Third Trimester Fetal Movement: What is Normal?

third trimester fetal movement

One of the most exciting moments for any expectant mother is when she first feels her baby move. Although this event or “quickening” occurs during different times in each pregnancy, you will probably first notice fetal movements at around week 20 in your second trimester and an increase in frequency by week 28. Fetal movements are a positive sign that your baby is growing in both size and strength.

However, it is in the final three months of your pregnancy, known as the third trimester, that your baby is most likely to become highly active. You may feel – and may even see – kicking, punching, rolling, and other intrauterine acrobatics – all signs of active and rapid third-trimester fetal movement.

It’s important to know that each trimester is special, creating unique hormonal and developmental changes for you and your baby. Naturally, some mothers may begin to worry if their baby is too active or on the other side, not sufficiently mobile. During many prenatal care appointments, it’s common for expectant mothers to express concerns about a decrease in fetal movement or what they feel are sluggish movements.

Continue reading to discover what is considered “normal” third trimester fetal movement and what types of fetal activity you can expect in your third trimester.

Your Baby is Well-Developed Now

The third trimester officially starts on the 28th week of your pregnancy and lasts until the time of birth, around the 40th week of pregnancy. By this time your baby’s organs and other structures have developed, and he or she is beginning to explore their watery environment. Their senses are also functioning, and they can feel pressure and hear. Their vision is still developing, although they may be able to see a bright light.

While it may feel like you’re at the end of your pregnancy, there is still a lot of growth and development that needs to happen during the third trimester. As outlined by the Mayo Clinic, here are a few milestones your baby will go through during this time:

– Eyes: During week 28, your baby can partially open his or her eyes. Eyelashes have formed. After week 30, your baby can fully open their eyes. Although, they cannot see much, just detect light.

– Hair, skin and nails: During week 30, hair has formed. By week 32, translucent skin is no longer translucent. By week 34 of your pregnancy, your baby has developed fingernails. By week 38, toenails begin to emerge.  

– Senses: By week 31, your baby will be able to sense touch, taste, sound, sight and smell.

– Brain: During this trimester, your baby will go through rapid brain development and can even begin dreaming.

With this development comes activity. The fetus is exploring their environment more actively and will begin to shift and move. You probably first noted these movements back in your second trimester of pregnancy. At first, many women are not certain whether or not what they are feeling is fetal movement and oftentimes may mistake the sensations as gas or even hunger. However, fetal activity is usually unmistakable by the third trimester.

What is Your Baby Up to in the Third-Trimester?

Fetuses in the third trimester can be quite active. During this time, your baby is preparing for life outside of the womb and still undergoing rapid development. You will probably feel frequent kicking, rolling, punching, and other movements. Some women will even be able to see evidence of this movement in their bellies with tiny footprints and handprints appearing. The majority of third-trimester fetal movement is not uncomfortable, but you might experience some mild pain or surprise when your baby decides to give a particularly hard kick.

During the third trimester, you may also notice a pattern of activity; for example, your baby may be more active in the mornings versus the evenings. Typically, expecting mothers feel the most activity between 9 p.m. – 1 a.m. due to your changing blood sugar levels as you go to sleep.

As your due date approaches, your baby is likely to become more energetic. In fact, they may expand their movements from punches and kicks to rolls and stretches. This is normal. You can also expect movements to become more frequent. In fact, fetuses have been known to kick an average of about 30 times an hour during the third trimester.

In most cases, your baby will usually rotate to a head-down position late in your third trimester. This is in preparation for birth, and the position can be verified by examination and ultrasound. If your baby does not assume the proper position, your obstetrician can help correct this.

What is Normal for Third Trimester Fetal Movement?

It’s important to remember that every woman, fetus, and pregnancy are different. Just because your baby is not moving in the same way as in your previous pregnancy or a friend’s or family member’s pregnancy does not necessarily mean there is a problem.

It is normal for fetal movement to slow for an hour or so from time to time. After all, fetuses sleep too. During week 36 of your pregnancy, your baby continues to gain weight, becoming larger and stronger. New developments may make the uterus crowded, so it is common to feel slightly less movement. As your baby grows, they may find your womb too restrictive for the wide-ranging movements they performed earlier in your pregnancy.

Do Not Ever Hesitate to Ask Your OBGYN

However, if you notice that fetal movements have ceased or significantly decreased, you need to contact your healthcare provider right away as this may be a sign of fetal impairment or risk. They may ask you to perform kick counts, recording the number of fetal kicks per hour. They may also advise you to come into their office for an examination and ultrasound.

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About the Connecticut OBGYN Practice

Dr. John Garofalo, M.D., is an OBGYN located in Fairfield County, Connecticut, providing care for Norwalk, Darien, New Canaan, Weston, Rowaytan and the surrounding areas. He has more than 20 years of practice and surgical experience covering many facets of obstetrics and gynecology.

Laury Berkwitt, APRN, is a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Laury has a passion for providing quality women’s healthcare in a safe and comfortable manner by creating a trusting patient-practitioner relationship. She has been in practice for more than 10 years, caring for women of all ages.