It might not be convenient when you're heavily pregnant and bub starts having a dance party right when you're trying to get some sleep, but according to a new study, that night time kicking is actually a good sign.
The research, published in PLOS One, found that as a woman's due date creeps closer, it's normal to feel increasingly strong movement, episodes of movement that are "more vigorous than usual", hiccups and a daily pattern involving strong fetal movements at night.
"Pregnant women are often advised to keep an eye on their baby's movement pattern and report any decrease in movements," says lead author, Billie Bradford. "But, even though there is a link between decreased movements and stillbirth, most women who report a drop in activity will go on to have a healthy baby."
The problem, she says, is that up until now there has been limited evidence about what normal movement looks like, with women receiving mixed advice around the world. "We thought this would be useful information, particularly for first-time mothers who are getting to know what a normal pattern is for them," Ms Bradford says.
As part of the study, researchers from the University of Auckland interviewed 274 women in their third trimester about the nature and frequency of their babies' movements.
Strong movements were felt by most women in the evening (73 per cent) and at bedtime (79 per cent). And, contrary to oft-given advice, women were more likely to perceive moderate or strong movements when sitting quietly compared with other activities, such as having a cold drink or eating.
Almost all women felt their babies hiccup.
"it is reasonable to inform pregnant women that perception of a pattern of increased strength of fetal movements in the evening is common throughout late pregnancy and may be reassuring of fetal wellbeing," the authors write. "This study should also inform care providers that it is important to be responsive to reports of fetal movement concerns in the evening as such reports are unusual."
According to Ms Bradford, "Probably the most surprising finding was just how profound an influence time of day was. "Only 3.7 percent of women did not feel strong or moderate movements in the evening."
Senior author Professor Lesley McCowan adds: It's clear that the pattern of movement is more consistent across pregnant women than the number of kicks – which varies widely between women, from four to 100 an hour."
But while it might not be easy to rest with a baby who wants to belly dance at night, the authors say the study provides reassurance that it's normal.
"It may be an antisocial hour for adults, but it is a social hour for the fetus (and incidentally the newborn), so lack of movement at that time warrants an urgent check-up," Ms Bradford says.
Associate Professor of Midwifery, Jane Warland, who was not involved in the study says the research provides interesting insight into the range of fetal movement that mothers, who went on to have a live born baby, reported towards the end of pregnancy.
"While midwives and other maternity care providers should continue to advise women that getting to know their individual baby's behaviour is vitally important so they can immediately report any changes from their baby's normal, this study provides an understanding about where a "normal" range might lie."
Associate Professor Warland says the study also supports findings from other research which indicate that, "when the fetus is well in the third trimester it is common for the mother to report increasingly strong movement, occasional hiccups, frequent "busy" times, and a diurnal pattern of fetal movement felt mainly in the evening".
And she says the findings have important implications. "The study may help midwives engage in a conversation with pregnant women about the usual characteristics of fetal movement in the third trimester and thus encourage them to seek appropriate review if they become concerned about any changes in the strength, frequency or pattern of their baby's movements."
Australian not-for-profit Still Aware,who are dedicated to raising awareness of stillbirth, suggest mums spend time "bonding with their bump" everyday.
- In the 3rd trimester, monitor your baby's movements to Bond with your Bump everyday, preferably at the same time.
- Pick a time based on when your baby is usually active. Make sure your regular bonding sessions are at a time when baby is commonly awake.
- To get started, sit with your feet up or lie on your side. Pay attention to each of you baby's movements and get to know the little one growing inside you. How often does baby move? How strong is the movement? What is the pattern?
- Consistency is key. Once you and your baby have established a bonding routine, try to stick to it.
- If anything seems DIFFERENT OR IRREGULAR, contact your healthcare provider for a check-up straight away, no matter the time of day. DO NOT WAIT.