What Do Jerky Fetal Movements Mean During Pregnancy?

Fetal movement changes from trimester to trimester and rapid movements are usually normal.

Updated December 18, 2022
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Feeling your baby move for the first time can be one of the most wonderful moments in pregnancy. Many pregnant people take these movements as a sign that their baby is healthy and growing well in the womb. But you're likely to feel different types of movement and you might find yourself wondering what the different sensations mean.

For instance, some people refer to rapid or jerky movements in the womb. Is this normal? Getting a better understanding of these frantic movements may help you to feel assured that everything is fine.

How Fetal Movement Develops in Each Trimester

Your baby begins moving in the womb around seven to eight weeks gestation, but you won't feel it that early. You're likely to feel it later in your first trimester. You can expect to feel your baby move for the first time between 16 weeks to 20 weeks. The first movement, called quickening, often feels like bubbles or butterflies in your stomach.

As your pregnancy progresses, you may feel kicks, rolls, swishes, and jerky movements. This is all normal. Researchers found that babies at 26 weeks gestation are more likely to make jerky arm and leg movements. Another study found that twitches, jerky movements, and startles are seen more often during the first and second trimesters and less during the third trimester.

Movements become smoother as the baby's nervous, sensory, and motor systems develops and mature. By 36 weeks, babies make more smooth limb movements.

What Causes Jerky Movements in the Womb?

By week 24 of your pregnancy, you may notice jerking movements inside your womb. If you're further along, you may even see your belly moving on the outside. There may be several different reasons that you feel this type of fetal movement.

Repetitive, rhythmic jerky movements in the second and third trimester may mean:

  • Hiccups. Hiccups are normal for developing fetuses. They may last anywhere from a couple of minutes to an hour. Your baby may get hiccups through the rest of your pregnancy.
  • Muscle spasm. Sometimes, the jerky movement you feel may not be your baby. It may be your own muscle movement instead. Abdominal muscle spasms are very common in pregnancy and can sometimes be mistaken for fetal movements.
  • Response to stimuli. At about 27 weeks, your baby can begin to hear some sounds outside of your body. Loud noises in your environment may cause the baby to startle, and you may feel a sudden, jerky movement.
  • Stretching. Once your baby reaches a certain size in utero, any movement or stretching may feel like twitchy, jerky movements at once. As they run out of room, a simple stretch from baby may feel like jerky movements from your perspective.

Some expectant parents worry that jerky movements may be a sign that something is wrong, such as a seizure. In most cases, these movements are perfectly normal. Fetal seizures are extremely rare, and may occur due to infection, such as the Zika virus. If you're not sure if what you're feeling is hiccups or something else, it's always best to talk to your healthcare provider about your concerns.

Understanding Fetal Movement and Your Baby's Well-Being

A baby's movement during pregnancy can be used as a standard measure of well-being. Rapid, jerky movements are among the many types of movements you can expect to feel from your baby during your pregnancy and these movements are normal.

If you feel concerned about your baby's movements, try to keep a log of the types of movements you feel and when they occur. If your baby hasn't moved for a while, they may be sleeping. Try drinking something cold or eat a snack. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, most babies move 10 times within 2 hours. Contact your healthcare provider if your baby is moving less than usual or expected.

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What Do Jerky Fetal Movements Mean During Pregnancy?