The first movements a woman becomes aware of are usually described as a fluttering sensation. This ‘quickening’ is sometimes the first symptom of pregnancy that a woman notices. It is usually felt for the first time around 18 or 20 weeks in the case of the first baby, or a couple of weeks earlier in subsequent pregnancies, because the movements are recognized earlier by the mother. The movements are at their peak at around 30 weeks when the baby’s muscles are well developed and he or she still has plenty of room to move around. Although sometimes uncomfortable and distracting, they are rarely painful and usually reassuring.
Later on, once the baby’s head has engaged in the pelvis, the movements are restricted and the mother will feel most of them at the top of the uterus where the baby’s feet are. During the last few weeks she may have a buzzing sensation high in the vagina, caused by the baby’s head pressing on the nerves and muscles of the pelvis. At the same time she may get a sense of lightness, often referred to as ‘lightening’, because with engagement the pressure lessens on the diaphragm at the top of the abdomen.
Sometimes it seems as if the baby has been sleeping all day, only to wake up just as the mother-to-be is ready to go to sleep! This is probably because she notices the movements only when she herself is quiet and resting; even if babies do not sleep in the uterus, they certainly have periods when they are less active, particularly in late pregnancy.