Science Behind Baby Kicks & Why They Move So Much

During pregnancy, the moment that many women wait for is when they can feel their babies kick while in the womb. While things like pregnancy symptoms and the changes in the way the body looks have made it real that in several short months babies will make their appearance in the world, for many, it is not truly until that baby kick is felt that there is a real connection with little ones. And while it brings peace of mind to mothers when their babies kick, there is actually science behind baby kick and why babies move so much. All of which is beneficial to the development of little ones.


Baby kicks are a normal and necessary part of pregnancy. They give mothers insight into the health of their babies while helping to build a bond that lasts a lifetime. And because the further along pregnancies progress the more babies communicate with their kicks, the more of a connection that is felt. All of which grows that much stronger when babies are finally born.

RELATED: Everything You Need To Know About Phantom Baby Kicks

Here is the science behind baby kicks and why babies move so much.

When Baby Kicks Are Felt

via Unsplash/Juan Encalada

As much as mothers-to-be would like their babies to be able to kick as soon as they find out they are pregnant, it takes some time to feel that first baby kick. Something that varies by baby and by each pregnancy women have.

According to PregnancyBirth&Baby, most women will feel babies kick for the first time around 18 weeks gestation. For those who are having their first baby, the kicks may not be recognized until 20 weeks along. This has to do with not only having stronger abdominal muscles during the first pregnancy but also because first-time moms do not know what they are looking for in a baby kick.

For those who are on their second pregnancy or more, they may feel baby kicks, or “quickening” around 16 weeks pregnant, per the publication, given that these women know what the baby kick feeling is when it happens.

What Baby Kicks Feel Like

couple feeling baby's kick

For those mothers who are pregnant for the first time, they have never experienced what it feels like when babies kick. As such, it can be hard to distinguish between baby kicks and pregnancy symptoms such as gas or a grumbling stomach.

According to WebMD, the first movements that pregnant women will experience can feel like “butterflies, nervous twitches, or a tumbling motion.” This is why they are not easy to pinpoint early on that kicks are occurring.

However, during the second and third trimesters, kicks become not only more frequent but more powerful. As such, it is not uncommon for women to be woken up in the middle of the night by a sharp kick or actually double over in pain because little ones do not know their own kicking strength.

Why Baby Kicks In The Womb

via Unsplash/Alicia Petresc

Outside of the fact that babies kick in the womb because they can, there are important reasons that babies kick as well.

According to Healthline, there are several reasons why babies kick their legs with such frequency. Those reasons include:

  • Exercising the limbs to make them stronger
  • Response to mother’s moving
  • Response to noise heard outside the womb
  • Change in temperature
  • Hearing mothers’ voices
  • Response to their own stimuli
  • Changes in brain activity

There is also a school of thought, according to Scientific Reports that believes kick to get their brains to develop and “map” properly, per Healthline. This means that with each kick babies do, the brain is building synapses that control different parts of the body. And by doing this, the foundation for sensory development is laid as well.

How Many Baby Kicks Are Normal

baby kicks monitored

While baby kicks may be realized as soon as 16 weeks gestation, it is not until weeks 26 to 28 that baby kicks need to be counted, according to Count The Kicks. The timing is all dependent upon whether the pregnancy is high risk or if women are having multiples.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, the goal is to be able to count 10 baby kicks within the span of two hours. Many women will feel more than this if they have extremely active babies. And for most, 10 kicks will be felt in a shorter timeframe than two hours, per the publication.

What mothers-to-be are looking for with the kicks is not only to make sure they get the proper kick count but also to note any patterns in the kicks being felt, according to the American Pregnancy Association. By doing this, they will be able to recognize if there is something amiss with babies when patterns in kicks change.

While it may be nothing, the sooner pregnant women can recognize a change in their babies, the sooner healthcare professionals can be contacted. And if intervention is required, it can be received immediately.

When Baby Becomes Most Active

via Unsplash/Suhyeon Choi

While baby kicks can be felt at any time during the day, there are times when babies are more active than others. And if mothers pay attention to when that happens, they will notice a pattern emerge.

According to What To Expect, there are several reasons that babies become more active and kick about. Those reasons include:

  • Having a meal or a snack: Babies get energized when their mothers eat.
  • When babies have hiccups: The hiccups will not only cause movement in the womb, but babies may kick about trying to get the hiccups to come to an end.
  • When mothers lay down for the evening: Movement during the day can make babies fall asleep. But, when movement has stopped, babies may take that opportunity to be active and explore their bodies and surroundings.
  • Sudden fright: If mothers are startled and adrenalin courses through their bodies, babies will receive some hormones as well.

As such, mothers should anticipate not only feeling their babies move during these times but feeling a bit of added energy to the kicks as well.

Ways To Make Baby Kick

woman talking or singing to baby in womb

If babies are not kicking as often as normal or if those expecting just want to feel their little ones move, there are ways to make that happen.

According to Parenting FirstCrysome of those ways include:

  • Having a snack
  • Eating spicy food
  • Do some light cardio exercise
  • Jiggle the baby bump
  • Gentle poke the baby bump
  • Lay down
  • Put a flashlight on the baby bump
  • Sing to baby
  • Talk to baby

The more stimuli that babies have while in the womb, the more likely it is that they will react by moving. Something that lets mothers know their bundle of joy is healthy and strong.

Source: PregnancyBirth&Baby, WebMD, Healthline, Scientific Reports, Count The Kicks, American Pregnancy Association, Parenting FirstCry, What To Expect

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