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Quickening

What is quickening and what does it feel like?

Although a fetus can demonstrate active, deliberate movements fairly early in pregnancy, women often don't feel movement until well into the second trimester. These signs of life, called "quickening", generally present sometime between weeks 18 and 20. Women who have already had a child may feel them earlier, around weeks 15 to 17. Whenever it happens, the feeling of fetal movement often creates excitement and makes the pregnancy "real" for both the mother and those around her.

What Is Quickening?

Quite simply, quickening in pregnancy is the moment that fetal movement is felt by the mother. Because it is dependent on the mother's perception or sensation, quickening can be hard to pinpoint or explain. It is not uncommon for women to attribute the first signs of fetal movement to other causes, such as gas or hunger, and ultrasounds show that the fetus is often moving long before the mother feels it (as early as the end of the first trimester, week 11 or 12). At some point, however, the woman becomes aware that the sensations are the result of fetal movement, and that moment is referred to as quickening.

In the past, quickening has been used as a legal marker for the beginning of life. In fact, the word quickening comes from the original meaning of the word quick, which was "alive". Today, of course, the point at which life begins is hotly debated, and quickening is no longer used as a marker, partly because of its subjective nature and partly because, thanks to ultrasound technology, we now know that fetal movement begins before the mother can feel it.

Despite its loss of any legal importance, quickening of the fetus remains an important pregnancy milestone, as it often marks the moment at which a woman begins to really feel pregnant and generally triggers a deeper bonding process between mother and "baby".

What Does Quickening Feel Like?

Quickening is subjective and may feel different for every woman, but common sensations include:

  • the fluttering of a butterfly
  • light tapping
  • bubbles

Early on, women may mistake these sensations for gas, hunger, or digestive processes, but eventually, they will recognize them as fetal movements, and over time, these sensations get stronger and more frequent, eventually giving way to kicks and other stronger fetal movements.

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