At 37 weeks pregnant, Keri Stephens was at a rehearsal dinner when she realized that she hadn't felt her baby move in a while.
Scheduled to be a matron-of-a-honor in the wedding the next morning, Stephens, then 31, a healthcare editor from outside of Atlanta, tried to convince herself that everything was fine. "I remember having to give a speech, trying to smile for pictures—I was terrified, but I thought I was overreacting," she says. "I thought maybe I was being paranoid and I didn't want to make a scene."
Like a lot of moms, Stephens told herself she was probably worrying without cause and thought that maybe she had just been too busy during the day to notice her daughter moving. By the time she got home that night, however, she realized all of her go-to methods to get the baby to move—drinking juice, changing positions, and poking her—weren't working. Her husband convinced her it was time to go to the hospital.
By 6 a.m., after several tests, Stephens had been rushed to an emergency C-section under general anesthesia and without her husband because the doctors decided there wasn't enough time.
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A PSA to Other Moms
Today, fortunately, her daughter, Harper, is a healthy and happy 5-year-old kindergartener, and Stephens still isn't completely sure what caused her baby to decrease movements that night. The final test that led to the C-section, called a biophysical profile, showed her daughter as scoring a two out of 10 (a score of eight to 10 is considered normal, while anything four or under is abnormal). Follow-up tests on her placenta after delivery suggested some kind of infection was present.
What she is sure of is that her daughter would probably not be alive had she not gone to the hospital that night. And moreover, Stephens believes she would not have known to even get checked if she herself hadn't heard a similar story from a friend who was pregnant before her. That friend had noticed her baby's decreased movements toward the end of her pregnancy, but instead of writing it off as the baby simply "running out of room," she went and got checked—and saved her baby from what the doctors predicted would have been a stillbirth.
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"I don't think I would have paid attention if it hadn't happened to my friend," says Stephens, who posted a PSA on her Facebook page in November 2019, urging other mothers to trust their instincts and get checked if they feel a decrease in their baby's movement.
"I don't know who needs to read this, but I wanted to share," she wrote. "Babies don't stop moving in late pregnancy. And if your baby does and you feel like something is off, trust your gut…I don't want to scare anyone, but it's always better to be safe than sorry."
Courtesy of Keri Stephens The author and her baby.
What to Know About Your Baby's Movement at the End of Pregnancy
It was important to Stephens to share her story because she believes that far too many moms believe the myth that babies don't move as much near the end of pregnancy and, especially for first-time moms, it can be difficult to distinguish what's "normal" and what's not.
What to expect? Although babies will grow and get more crowded in the uterus, they will still move a similar amount of times even as they approach their due date, says Lori Hardy, M.D., an OB-GYN at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Illinois. "The character of the movements may change to more of a 'rolling' rather than sharp kicks, but the quantity of movements should be similar," she explains.
One of the best things you can do is get to know your baby's typical movement patterns, she suggests. That way you can detect if something may be wrong.
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"As a general rule, most babies have a 'schedule,' meaning that they move a similar amount at similar times of the day," says Dr. Hardy. "Some will seem to move 'all the time' and some are much less active, but that is the pattern they have established. After 24 weeks, there should be a similar amount of movement each day and a mother will generally have a pattern that she notices as the pregnancy progresses." She adds that, in most cases, babies are most active at night when the mother is at rest.
According to Daniel Roshan, M.D., FACOG, FACS, a board-certified high-risk pregnancy maternal-fetal medicine OB-GYN in New York City, those movement patterns will differ based on factors such as how far along you are in your pregnancy, how large your baby is, and even where the placenta is located. For example, if your placenta is in front of your baby in the uterus (closest to the outside of your stomach versus closer to your spine), it can act as a "cushion" and block some of the baby's movement.
To check for fetal movement, Dr. Hardy recommends the following:
- Lay on one side
- Place your hand on your abdomen
- Feel for movement
The standard for movement is that your baby should move at least 10 times within two hours, no matter how close you are to your due date, says Dr. Roshan.
If you find that you are having trouble remembering to track your baby's movements, Dr. Roshan suggests checking for your baby's movement at a set time every single day, especially after lunch or dinner when your baby will be more active as a result of your meal.
What to Do If You Suspect Your Baby's Movements Have Decreased
In the event that you notice that your baby's movements have decreased, your baby fails to move at what's expected, or you are concerned that something may be wrong, you should immediately call your pregnancy care provider, say both Dr. Hardy and Dr. Roshan.
Your care provider can then advise you on what to do next. He or she may suggest, for instance, that you have a glass of orange juice and re-check for movements, come into the office for monitoring, or head immediately to the hospital for evaluation.
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And if you're worried that you are overreacting, as Stephens notes she was initially, or that the nurses or doctor will judge you for coming in, don't be, says Dr. Roshan. "I always tell patients it's better safe than sorry," he notes. "You have nothing to lose by being checked."
Needless to say, Stephens missed the wedding she was supposed to be in that morning, but since that day, she's taken on an even more important role: spreading the message for moms to get checked if their babies' movement decreases.