Does foetal activity tell you anything about your baby’s personality?

"He's sure to be a soccer player"
"He's sure to be a soccer player" Photo: Getty Images

"You should feel your baby move about a dozen times a day," the midwife was saying at our antenatal class.

My husband and I roared with laughter and the midwife looked at us questioningly. "We felt our baby move more times than that during that sentence!" we explained.

Yes, my first baby was extraordinarily active in utero; I used to lower my chair in work meetings to hide my stomach under the table because the constant movement was distracting.

It was then, before she was even born, that I thought an active child was on her way – and I was right. My daughter remains one of the most energetic people I know (and I have the exhaustion levels to prove it).

This experience convinced me that our babies give us little insights to their personality well before they're in our arms.

But it turns out that research doesn't back me up – studies on this idea show foetal activity as an inconsistent method of predicting a baby's behaviour, waking times or motor activity following birth.

"Some women feel more movements and some feel less, and it depends on the position of the placenta," says obstetrician gynecologist Dr Alex Polyakov, adding that he doesn't think there's any truth to the notion that foetal activity is a predictor of the child's personality.

He says that most babies are moving nearly all the time. "The sleep cycle for a baby in utero is about half an hour, so there should be movements pretty much all the time," says Dr Polyakov. "You might notice it more if you're lying down or not distracted."

Still, I'm not the only mum to suspect there's something in this idea. When I shared my experience, some friends jumped in with their own experiences.

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"My eldest kicked all the time and she was such a go-getter as a bub," says Kelly. "On the other hand, when pregnant with number two I started getting worried because she wasn't as active as I remember with my first pregnancy. And she was the most chilled of all my four babies."

Lucy says each of her three was different: "My first was a placid baby in the womb, and is a placid and gentle child. My second was a very, very quiet baby in the womb and his character is gentle and considerate and peaceful. My third was an extremely active baby in the womb and is a veery spirited and active child who knows no boundaries or fear."

And Melanie says her first baby gave her a clue of a different sort. "During the ultrasound the radiographer pointed out that the baby had its legs crossed at its ankles, and said she'd never seen that before. That's something I do, and my son still does when he sleeps."

Other experts suspect there's more to foetal activity than we realise, too.

"An individual personality is connected to a lot of things other than what goes on in utero," says Dr Robyn Thompson, midwife and breastfeeding consultant.

"But I've made lots of observations over the years. One mother was pregnant with a baby who would go into the breach position every time she drove, and then she'd get home and he'd move head-down again. Now he's a delightful boy who's full of energy."

Dr Thompson adds that it's up to us to listen and take on the subtle messages from our babies. "The baby who is active in pregnancy all the time is telling its mother something – whether it's comfortable or uncomfortable, happy or unhappy; we don't have the answers but it's trying to let the mother know something."

"Mothers have the instinct to hear these little clues."