Decreased Fetal Movements: How to Count & What it Means

Updated in June 2023

Decreased fetal movements is worrying when less than 4 movements are felt in an hour. It can be especially concerning in women with a history of high blood pressure, diabetes, placental problems, uterine abnormalities or substance use (e.g. alcohol and tobacco). 

Fetal movements can start to be felt after the 16th week of gestation, although some women can only feel movements at around 22 weeks. This can vary based on the number of previous pregnancies and on placental location. Counting fetal movements is usually easier after the 28th week of pregnancy. 

If decreased fetal movements are noted, it is important to consult your OB, as decreased movements can be a sign that the baby is not receiving enough oxygen. It is important to identify the underlying cause and initiate prompt treatment as necessary. 

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How to count fetal movements 

Fetal movements should be counted during the time of the day that the baby is most active, usually after a meal. You should count movements felt within one hour. The average number of movements is between 4 and 6 movements per hour, however many babies cant move up to 15 or 20 times in an hour.

Another way to count fetal movements is to see how long it takes for the baby to reach 10 fetal movements. If it takes longer than 2 hours to reach 10 movements, you should seek medical attention. 

When decreased fetal movements is not concerning 

Some women become accustomed to feeling fetal movements, and by the end of pregnancy, it is much easier to ignore them. This may be confused for decreased fetal movements. 

Fasting and dehydration can also lead to decreased delta movements, It is very important for pregnant women to take time to eat and hydrate throughout the day. 

Nonetheless, if you suspect decreased movements from the baby, you should seek medical attention. 

How to stimulate the baby to move 

Some ways to stimulate the baby to move include: 

  • Drink cold fluids 
  • Take a walk
  • Speak to the baby while rubbing your belly
  • Eat a sweet snack
  • Lie down with your legs elevated on pillows or on your headboard and try to relax

Each baby has different activity levels, however if the baby does not move with these tips after 2 hours, you should speak to your OB about your concerns. The OB will order testing as necessary to check the baby’s status. 

What decreased fetal movements can mean 

Decreased fetal movements may be a sign that the baby is in distress, due to lack of oxygen or nutrition. If not addressed rapidly, the baby is at risk for health conditions like premature labor, nervous system damage, or epilepsy.

Pregnancies that are well-monitored with all prenatal exams completed are the best way to identify any early abnormalities, which leads to optimal treatment if necessary. If you have any doubts, you are encouraged to consult your OB.