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Fetal movements: A framework for antenatal conversations

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Billie F. Bradford, Robin S. Cronin, Jane Warland, Anna Akelsson, Ingela Radestad, Alexander EP Haezell, Christopher J.D McKinlay, Tomasina Stacey, John M.D. Thompson, Lesley M.E. McCowan

Original languageEnglish
JournalWomen and Birth
Early online date23 Sep 2022
Accepted/In press6 Sep 2022
E-pub ahead of print23 Sep 2022

King's Authors


Background: Presentations for decreased fetal movements comprise a significant proportion of acute antenatal assessments. Decreased fetal movements are associated with increased likelihood of adverse pregnancy outcomes including stillbirth. Consensus-based guidelines recommend pregnant women routinely receive information about fetal movements, but practice is inconsistent, and the information shared is frequently not evidence-based. There are also knowledge gaps about the assessment and management of fetal movement concerns. Women have indicated that they would like more accurate information about what to expect regarding fetal movements.

Discussion: Historically, fetal movement information has focussed on movement counts. This is problematic, as the number of fetal movements perceived varies widely between pregnant women, and no set number of movements has been established as a reliable indicator of fetal wellbeing. Of late, maternity care providers have also advised women to observe their baby’s movement pattern, and promptly present if they notice a change. However, normal fetal movement patterns are rarely defined. Recently, a body of research has emerged relating to maternal perception of fetal movement features such as strength, presence of hiccups, and diurnal pattern as indicators of fetal wellbeing in addition to frequency.

Conclusion: Sharing comprehensive and gestation-appropriate information about fetal movements may be more satisfying for women, empowering women to identify for themselves when their baby is doing well, and importantly when additional assessment is needed. We propose a conversational approach to fetal movement information sharing, focusing on fetal movement strength, frequency, circadian pattern, and changes with normal fetal development, tailored to the individual.

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