Babies are often active between contractions because they’re maneuvering into an ideal position for birth.
They could also be stretching or trying to get comfortable in between contractions.
Surprisingly, babies are often more active during contractions than in between them.
Decreased or frantic movements during labor could mean your baby is struggling.
In one study, multiple doctors found that:
“Of all uterine contractions, 89.8% were associated with fetal movement. The proportion of time the fetus spent moving during uterine contractions (21.4%) was higher than between uterine contractions (12.9%).
Uterine contractions associated with fetal movement were significantly longer than those not associated with fetal movement… Decreased total activity may indicate a fetus at risk.”
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Baby Movement During Labor
Babies do indeed move during labor, especially in the early phase.
In addition to, or instead of, the normal kicks that the mother feels throughout her pregnancy, she’ll feel the baby squirm, wriggle, and shuffle.
Fetal movement during labor is an indication that labor is progressing well and the baby is fine.
If you don’t feel your baby at all during labor, let your physician know.
I clearly remember my twin boys’ movements during early labor.
The kicks, jabs, and wiggles were remarkably similar to their normal routine but seemed to be related to the intensity of the contractions.
Normal Baby Movements During Contractions
During contractions, some babies do not move much because the uterus is tightening around them, which restricts movement.
Other babies will become more active during contractions as they work with the pressure to better position themselves.
According to one study, “Of all uterine contractions, 89.8% were associated with fetal movement.”
It’s normal for your baby to move during contractions, but because of the pain you experience, you might not be aware of the movements.
Interestingly, according to the study above, “uterine contractions associated with fetal movement were significantly longer than those not associated with fetal movement.”
So when you feel a longer contraction, take heart knowing that your baby is working hard to make progress.
Your doctor may put a fetal heart monitor on your stomach to manage how your baby is responding to each contraction.
While contractions aren’t supposed to hurt your baby, they may cause your baby distress if there are underlying medical conditions.
Normal Baby Movement in Between Contractions
While many babies move during contractions, other babies move more in between contractions.
Movement in between contractions means that your baby is awake and thriving in the womb as they prepare for birth.
Since the contractions squeeze the uterus and encourage the baby to leave the mother’s body, the baby may be taking advantage of the short break to stretch and reposition.
Feeling kicks, wiggles, and squirming is normal in the early stages of labor.
Increased Baby Movement Before Labor
Before you start labor, you may experience Braxton Hicks contractions, which is your body’s way of getting ready for birth.
The gentle squeezing your baby experiences might cause him or her to wriggle more.
Babies who are generally active in the womb sometimes quiet down slightly in the days and weeks before labor as they run out of room to move (think less forceful kicks, not a decrease in activity).
Babies who are typically not very active might show increased movements as they struggle to get into an ideal birthing position.
An extreme increase in baby movement before labor may be a sign that your baby is in distress, and a sharp decrease in movements should always be reported right away.
You know your baby better than anyone, and you should let your physician know if there’s a significant change in your baby’s movements.
When To Worry About Fetal Movement During Labor
There’s no such thing as normal fetal movement during labor, but 10 movements per hour are considered the norm.
Some babies are more active than others, but if there’s ever a decrease in fetal movement during labor, you should let your physician know.
Your baby may be taking a nap, but they could also be in distress.
You should also let your physician know if your baby suddenly starts moving like crazy.
Why Babies Move During Labor
You may feel your baby moving before and during labor for the following reasons:
Normal Cycle of Activity in the Womb
In the days leading up to labor and even during the early stages of labor, babies continue their “daily routine” as normal.
This consists of alternating active and resting cycles.
“Each cycle lasts 20-40 minutes overall, but may go up to 90 minutes,” according to Dr. Liji Thomas.
Baby Is Positioning for Birth
You’re not the only one working during labor. Your baby is also moving to the optimal position to exit the birth canal safely and efficiently.
After the baby’s body is in the proper position, you may feel them moving their head to find the right placement to get through the pelvis.
Baby Is Uncomfortable or Stressed
Before or during labor, you need to tell a medical professional if there are any changes in fetal movement.
While some fetal changes are normal, extreme movement may be an indication of a compressed umbilical cord or other cause of struggle for the baby.
Normal Response to Contractions
Your baby is warm, safe, and cozy inside the womb. They’re closer to you than they’ll ever be, and they get to eat and sleep whenever they want.
When contractions begin, the sudden movement agitates the baby. In response, the baby may kick to express their frustration.
Signs Labor Is Imminent
The signs that labor is imminent can vary among women, but common indicators include:
- Lightening: The baby’s head drops lower into the pelvis, relieving pressure on the diaphragm. This can make breathing easier but may increase pressure on the bladder.
- Bloody Show: A small amount of blood-tinged mucus is expelled from the cervix, signaling that the cervix is starting to dilate and efface.
- Increased Vaginal Discharge: A surge in vaginal discharge may occur as the cervix begins to soften and dilate.
- Rupture of Membranes (Water Breaking): The amniotic sac may rupture, causing a gush or a slow leak of amniotic fluid. This doesn’t always happen before labor starts.
- Contractions: Regular, increasingly intense contractions are a strong sign of impending labor. True labor contractions become more frequent, longer, and stronger over time.
- Back Pain: Some women experience lower back pain or discomfort as the baby’s head descends into the pelvis.
- Cervical Changes: During a pelvic exam, a healthcare provider may detect changes in the cervix, such as dilation and effacement.
- Nesting Instinct: Some women may experience a burst of energy and a strong urge to prepare the home for the baby, a phenomenon known as the nesting instinct.
- Change in Movement Patterns: Active babies might be a little calmer before labor, and calmer babies might show an increase in activity before labor.
- Change in Bathroom Habits: Loose stools can sometimes occur due to the release of prostaglandin hormones that stimulate uterine contractions.
Common Questions About Babies During Labor
Do Contractions Hurt the Baby?
No, contractions don’t hurt the baby, but they make your baby uncomfortable so they move into the birth canal.
Contractions squeeze the uterus and make the warm, safe womb where your baby has been for the last nine months a little less warm and safe.
After a few hours of these contractions, your baby will be encouraged to make their way into the world.
Are Babies Awake During Labor?
Just like during the rest of pregnancy, babies follow a sleep/wake cycle during the labor process.
It’s interesting to note that toward the end of pregnancy, babies sleep about 95% of the time.
Throughout labor, you may find that the baby is active but also has some periods of inactivity. This is likely a sign that they are resting or sleeping.
What Do Babies Do During Labor?
During labor, babies move into the optimal position to make their way into the world.
As the mother’s cervix begins to dilate, the baby’s head presses against the birth canal.
Babies can squirm or shift positions to some extent during labor, especially between contractions when there may be a brief period of relative relaxation.
Do Babies Feel Pain During Birth?
According to recent studies, babies feel pain as early as 12 weeks in the womb.
Babies who are uncomfortable in the womb or during birth might cry or make a face.
Since birth is a natural experience, your body will do whatever possible to make the experience comfortable for your baby.
A clavicle fracture during delivery or injury from the use of forceps or vacuum extraction will likely cause the baby to feel pain.
Why Do Babies Cry When They Are Born?
When babies are born, they make the transition to breathing air, and crying helps them clear the fluid from their lungs and take in the first breaths of air.
The exposure to new sounds, lights, and sensations can be overwhelming, and they might be in slight pain from the birthing experience.
Leaving the warm and wet environment of the uterus for the cooler and drier world outside can be a shock to a newborn.
Also, separation from the mother during the initial moments after birth can lead to crying as the baby seeks comfort and reassurance.
Giving them skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding should comfort them.
Do All Babies Cry at Birth?
Yes, all babies should cry at birth. If a baby is not making any noise at birth, there’s the possibility that the baby isn’t breathing.
In that case, immediate medical action is required.
Mom of three (including identical twin boys), wife, and owner of Parents Wonder. This is my place to share my journey as a mother and the helpful insights I learn along the way.